Maternity Leave Challenges for Faculty: What To Expect When They’re Expecting

By Kelcey Norris

When an expectant mother and faculty member at Youngstown State University welcomes a new life into the world, her road to maternity leave may not be as smooth as it seems. 

Diana Awad Scrocco, an associate English professor at YSU and mother of three, is currently on maternity leave with her newborn child. While the university provides expectant mothers with six weeks of paid leave, they have the option to take an additional three weeks of paid sick leave.

This gives mothers nine weeks of paid leave to be with their children, and Awad said taking sick leave after giving birth can be concerning.

“In the calendar year, what if I need to take that sick leave later? I now have used it up to be with this baby,” Awad said.

According to Awad, expectant mothers have the option through the Family and Medical Leave Act, termed FMLA, to take an additional three weeks of leave, which brings it to a total of 12.

Amanda Fehlbaum, a sociology professor at YSU, said there are potentially damaging effects of the current standards for maternity leave. 

“By combining them both, it’s taking away security. If some medical crisis happens, then you’re out of time,” Fehlbaum said. “Fertility levels are so low in America because we say we … need more children, but then we don’t provide the services and the backup, the safety net, that would make it easier to have and take care of kids.”

Fehlbaum said taking unpaid leave after the initial six weeks is often a financial burden for parents. 

“Personally, I think it needs to be paid,” Fehlbaum said. “Your family has just grown, and you need to be able to support that family. That’s hard to do when you’re not getting any money.” 

Stacey Luce, manager of employee benefits at YSU, said protections do exist for employees who take leave for specific medical and family situations. 

Under FMLA, eligible employees who meet certain criteria are offered unpaid leave without fear of losing their positions. An employee must have been with the company for at least one full year and worked 1,250 hours during the year.

“FMLA is job protection. So, after those 12 weeks … they come back to the same exact position, same exact schedule that they would’ve come to if they’d never left,” Luce said. “No harm comes to them if they have taken FMLA.” 

Within Article 7 of YSU and the Ohio Board of Education’s 2017-2020 agreement, maternity leave and medical leave being placed in the same category leaves the topic up for debate. 

“That is why an employee would use sick time or vacation time if they have it. If they don’t have it, they have to take leave without pay,” Luce said. 

In Awad’s opinion, families may be dependent on this source as a reliable and steady income.  

“I know people who can only get six weeks off because they can’t afford the FMLA unpaid time off,” Awad said. “They end up going back to work prematurely and it often interferes with their ability to continue breastfeeding.” 

Awad also noted the structure of her leave interferes with her daily classroom operations when she has a newborn in the beginning of the semester. 

“It doesn’t make a lot of sense for me to come back into the classroom in the first and last three weeks of the semester,” Awad said. “Then have a sub for twelve weeks the students have grown used to,” she said. “It just seems awkward and unfair to students.” 

Additionally, faculty members are required to submit their application for maternity leave to YSU’s human resources office at least 30 days before their expected due date.

Awad said she experienced frustrations during this part of the process. 

“You know how doctors’ offices are. They didn’t send my note in right away. … I got this email from HR saying that I had a deadline of Jan. 6 to get them that note, and I didn’t quite understand that,” Awad said. “If they didn’t get the note, does that mean I don’t get my maternity leave? I mean, of course we have to have deadlines. … But to me that didn’t make a whole lot of sense.”

Awad said she is appreciative of the maternity leave, which allows her and other new parents to bond with their children and start the first few weeks off on the right foot. 

According to Awad, spending time with her newborn is vital. 

“For me, it’s about breastfeeding,” she said. “If you want to breastfeed … it’s critical to have those first 12 weeks to establish your milk supply, to establish a good latch and feeding habits with the baby. Twelve weeks is just the minimum of what is necessary, to me.” 

Awad also has experience with systems for pregnant faculty members at other universities. 

According to Awad, class schedules are lenient and flexible to accommodate for the maternity or paternity leave. 

“At [Carnegie Mellon], the university I worked at previously, whatever semester you were due in, you just didn’t teach,” Awad said. “They gave you other responsibilities and didn’t assign you any classes. To me, that just makes more sense.” 

Faculty members seeking paternity or familial leave are recommended to seek advice from YSU’s human resources department. 

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