Easing the burden: Commission offers recommendations for family leave policies at NIU

In August 2017, the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women (PCSW) developed a research study to learn about employee experiences with and campus climate surrounding family leave at NIU. The study, based on a survey of 542 NIU employees, made a number of recommendations for the university to update its approach to family leave. The central recommendation is for NIU to explore formulating a family leave benefit plan.

Jessica Reyman

“Currently, there is no university policy or paid benefit specifically for family leave for employees at Northern Illinois University,” says Jessica Reyman, an associate professor of English and one of the lead researchers on the study.

She continues, “Our research confirms that current family leave policies and practices present undue challenges to some faculty and staff who seek a reasonable and fair work arrangement when taking a leave of absence for a significant life event such as pregnancy and birth, care for a newborn or other family member, and personal health conditions.”

NIU is already working to address the concerns identified by the study.

President Lisa Freeman

“The survey results provide us with important insights and show that NIU should be more progressive in the way we look at and operationalize family leave,” says NIU President Dr. Lisa Freeman.

President Freeman continues, “I’ve asked Human Resource Services (HRS) to review plans and practices at peer institutions, identify effective practices and use that knowledge to develop goals for creating a thoughtful and realistic benefit program that addresses the needs of our faculty and staff. At the same time, we’re taking immediate steps to improve the implementation of leaves. I’ve directed the Provost’s Office and HRS to revise the process for development, management and implementation of work plans and back-to-work plans that often accompany FMLA [Family and Medical Leave Act] leaves, with the goal of achieving more consistency and transparency across departments. PCSW is researching tenure clock policies at peer institutions to guide recommendations to the University Council Personnel Committee (UCPC) regarding our policies related to FMLA and stopping the tenure clock.”

The commission emphasizes that, although women are more likely to require family leave for certain life events, such as the birth of a child or caregiving responsibilities for a newborn or other family member, family leave policies and practices have the potential to affect all employees. Therefore, the survey gathered data from 542 NIU employees of all genders, including 51 percent of civil service employees, 26 percent of Supportive Professional Staff (SPS) and 22 percent of faculty. The full report is available on the NIU website.

For more information, contact the Presidential Commission on the Status of Women at pcsw@niu.edu.

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