SU makes Progress Toward better Maternity Leave Policies

Up until recently, Seattle University’s maternity leave policy has created near-unnavigable barriers for employees planning to have children through foster care, childbirth and adoption. The former maternity leave policy meant that the only option for employees who were planning to have children was to accummulate their sick days in an attempt to create a pseudo-maternity leave.

Employees on campus have said they would plan for years so they could develop a deep bench of paid leave just for these events. But this changed recently when the school adopted a new maternity leave policy.

The school’s former policy was in accordance with the Family and Medical Leave Act, the federal policy that states those who have worked 1,250 hours minimum over a period of one year are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave after having a child through pregnancy, adoption or foster care services.

This new policy was a step forward in terms of policy that preserves the jobs of parents in the time after they have had children. However, those 12 weeks were not only unpaid, but two-parent households in which both parents work at Seattle U might have to split those 12 weeks of leave between the two of them.

Seattle U employees have been diligently working on making changes to the leave policy and campaigning for the administration to adopt those changes. On Tuesday April 24, an email from the school’s Human Resources department was sent out to school employees.

“The enhanced benefit came about because of the concerns and hopes raised by members of our campus community. There was both a need to address a disparity in benefits coverage, especially for new parents, and an opportunity to better align our policy with our Jesuit value of caring for the whole person,” Michelle Clements, vice president of human resources at Seattle U, said in a statement.

It said that 12 weeks of paid leave would be available each year to new parents, no matter if the child “joined the family through natural birth, adoption, or foster care,” and to those who were experiencing serious illness or if someone in their family is ill.

Put simply, barriers for new parents employed by Seattle U have changed significantly. While it seems like a positive improvement, Seattle U parents are still holding their breath and waiting to see how this policy works out over time.

Cat Frizzell, an academic advisor for the Premajor program, has navigated the delicate process of Seattle U’s former policy. She was anxiously awaiting this new announcement.

“This policy was supposed to come out in January and it’s now the beginning of April,” Frizzell said. “As a pregnant person, I was looking at my inbox and thinking ‘You guys have to hurry up, we’re on a schedule here.’”

The initial information that was shared with employees was vague, so other than the complicated structure of the policy-changing process causing Frizzell to use the old policy when taking leave for her new baby, Frizzell’s major concern was that everyone who has been saving up on sick days will lose all that time.

“Anyone who has been here for a long time had been accruing sick time,” she said. “We were concerned that they were taking those hours we would usually get paid for because they are phasing out that program.”

After July 1 of 2018, the sick pay benefits will be modified to accommodate the new paid leave policy, and only 72 hours will roll over each year. This was an issue because many individuals worked on days they could have been recovering from illness so they could save those sick days for childbirth, and because those days were benefits they had accrued as a stipulation of their contract. As it turns out, everyone hired before July 1, 2018 will be able to carry over that time.

This policy change is beneficial for Seattle U employees, given that they are eligible for the benefits. The change is yet another example of the changes American culture has to make in terms of benefits for families, especially for the individuals in those families that shoulder the majority of the caretaking burden.

Even on the Seattle U campus these barriers show signs of persisting, considering the fact that the the staff at Bon App will not receive this policy change.

“We are an independently managed company, so all issues like that go to our own Human Resources department,” said Daniel Morse, a supervisor at C-Street.

Because the 12 weeks of leave are allotted per eligible employee, regardless of that employee’s gender, it is a big step in dismantling several forms of barriers that hinder people from participating in the workforce.

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