UT must make parental leave more accommodating

Michael Zhang, Columnist

A recent study done by researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder found that across the U.S. and Canada, around 120 of 197 universities included in the study have some form of paid maternity leave, and 114 of 197 in the study had some form of paid paternity leave

UT, however, has zero days of paid parental leave and offers only 12 weeks of unpaid leave with a guarantee that the institution won’t replace employees by the time they return. Additionally, UT forces employees to use their paid sick leave first during their parental leave. 

Expecting a new child already takes an immense emotional and physical toll on parents. UT only contributes to this overwhelming stress parents experience by perpetuating an inflexible parental leave policy. By considering paid coverage of parental leave, UT can make its leave policy more accommodating for staff and faculty. If they are unable to do so, UT should at least increase the amount of paid sick days given to employees.

“To not have some kind of paid leave and have to use your sick days, that has my stamp of disapproval,” said a parent and professor at UT who wishes to remain anonymous. “Being a professor gives certain flexibility where this is not as much of an issue. But somebody who’s an administrator and needs to be on campus and interfacing with people, I don’t know how they could possibly manage at all.” 

As the professor states, a University employee working a traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. position under this policy does not have the flexibility to take care of a baby and work simultaneously. Considering that Texas ranks nationally as one of the highest states in childbirth costs, if the employee cannot work and runs out of sick leave, this policy can wreak havoc on the financial stability of their household.

If not their employees, who is UT really looking out for in its parental leave policy? 

Veronica Trevino, media manager of financial and Administrative Services Communications, described the legality behind UT’s parental leave policy in an email. 

“The University implements leave policies authorized and directed by state and federal requirements and offers disability insurance plans as set forth by UT System. More information may be found in Texas Government Code, Chapter 661.”

The Code, set by the state of Texas, does require that a state employee cannot take a parental leave of absence exceeding 12 weeks. However, the Code of Texas does not enforce the scarce amount of paid sick days given to the UT employees. 

Suppose UT cannot provide fully paid parental leave. In that case, they could at least give their employees more paid sick days to partially alleviate the financial burden that rests upon these new parents.

Recently UT has unveiled a new system for transferring sick days, allowing fellow employees to donate them to one another. If this new system is UT’s claim to progress in parental leave — a policy that encourages employees to ration and give away what little time off they have to others who desperately need it — UT needs to do better.

If the University cannot cover the cost of parental leave, it should at least allow more paid sick days so that overburdened parents can take their short 12 weeks of leave with some form of stability. 

UT, improve your parental leave policy for both your employees’ well-being and the future generations of our campus’ best and brightest.

Michael Zhang is an undeclared PACE freshman from Katy, Texas.