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Procedures and Guidelines for Leaves of Absence

Section F.4 of the Graduate School Handbook

Unexpected absences are usually the most difficult to manage, since they require careful balancing of the student’s personal needs with academic and administrative policies, the student’s academic standing and degree progress, unit or principal investigator needs, and funding realities. Appropriately addressing these challenging life situations, which can also jeopardize degree progress or degree completion, typically involves not only the graduate student and his/her supervisor but also the student’s advisor, Graduate Studies Committee Chair, and often the department head. Some situations may require additional expertise (from the Graduate School, the Office of International Affairs, the Office of Human Resources, the Office of Student Financial Aid, or other areas). 

Notification/Documentation. To be granted a leave of absence, the students must notify their advisor, in writing, as soon as possible. For parental, personal and professional leaves, advisor approval must occur before deciding to take these leaves of absence. All requests for leaves must be approved by the graduate advisor and/or the appointment unit, as applicable. Graduate associates and fellows in need of leave or workplace accommodations related to a medical condition should be directed by their advisor and/or their graduate program to contact Integrated Absence Management and Vocational Services (IAMVS) within the Office of Human Resources. IAMVS provides assistance/consultation to units and employees (faculty, staff, and student employees) regarding FMLA leave, disability benefits including workers’ compensation, and workplace accommodations related to a disability (e.g., scheduling adjustments, physical limitations, leave as an accommodation, assistive technology, etc.). Furthermore, in order to maintain confidentiality, supporting medical documentation is requested by and maintained solely within IAMVS. 

Approval Process. The Graduate School has made these suggestions based on reasonable actions, but requests for all leaves of absence are handled at the local level. When in need of a leave of absence, the funded graduate student would make a request in writing (via e-mail) as promptly as possible to his/her immediate academic and/or administrative supervisor.. A completed GA request for leave form should be attached to the student’s e-mail. In the case of short-term absences (less than 2 weeks) such as sick or professional development leaves, it is suggested at least the advisor make the decision. In the case of leaves of absence of longer duration, the administrative supervisor should consult with the student’s advisor and chair of the Graduate Studies Committee in the student’s program of study. The appointing unit may designate additional individuals who must approve requests for leaves of absence. In some cases it may be necessary for the supervisor and/or student to consult with other entities (such as a funding agency, the Office of International Affairs, etc.). For students on a Graduate School fellowship appointment, the student’s program of study must notify the Office of Fellowship Services of the student’s leave of absence. 

Denial. A request for a leave of absence without requiring makeup time may be denied by the advisor, graduate committee, supervisor of the unit, or IAMVS due to an inappropriate or unreasonable request, including inadequate documentation; repeated requests for leaves of absence; documented unsatisfactory performance; and/or incompatibility with funding agency or other institutional guidelines (such as requirements applying to international students).

Appeal Process. If a dispute over a request arises, the graduate student should follow the appointing unit’s appeal guidelines. Such guidelines often begin with an informal discussion with an advisor, Graduate Studies Committee Chair, department chair, college dean, and/or unit director. Such discussions will often lead to a successful resolution. In cases where a successful resolution cannot be reached at the local level, the Graduate School is available to offer advice and, in certain situations, to provide a formal hearing and adjudication. The Office of Human Resources can also provide information and consultation.

Appointment and Stipend Protection. Whenever possible and academically appropriate, the funded graduate student’s appointment and stipend (including fee authorization, health care subsidy, etc.) should be protected and should extend as long as is necessary by proper documentation, or until the end of the academic semester or summer term, whichever comes first. A funded graduate student who has been appointed for more than one year at or above 1,250 hours/year may be eligible for FMLA or ADA benefits. However, leave consideration is not contingent upon FMLA eligibility.

Extension of Leave of Absence. In some cases, it may be appropriate to extend a leave of absence into a new, contiguous appointment. Leaves of absence that need to be extended beyond the initial appointment may be stipend-protected (in whole or in part) for reasons stated in Section F.5 and Section F.6 and at the sole discretion of the appointing unit.

Registration Requirements. Graduate students on stipend-protected leaves of absence must meet the minimum Graduate School registration requirements to hold an appointment (Sections 9 and 10). The student may discuss with the advisor regarding possibility of registering for courses with more flexibility such as research credits or courses offered online.

Coverage of Responsibilities. Funded graduate students who are requesting paid or unpaid leaves of absence must follow the procedures established by their appointing units to cover responsibilities in cases of absence. When managing coverage of duties for an absent funded graduate student, appointing units must be sensitive to the load of other graduate students.

Appointing units currently use a variety of practices to manage leaves of absences that extend beyond two weeks. Approaches include temporary assignment of responsibilities to another funded graduate student, accompanied by a temporary increase in that graduate student’s appointment percentage (e.g., from 50 percent to 75 percent) or a special payment to that graduate student to compensate for additional effort over a period of time. 

In some situations it is not necessary to cover the duties and the assignments can be held until the student returns from a leave of absence. In some cases, a graduate student who is not funded is placed on a new appointment to cover the duties. Graduate students may not serve as “volunteer GAs” for the duration of a leave of absence; that is, graduate students may not serve without a stipend, at a stipend not commensurate with the expected load, or without appropriate payment of tuition and fees. Circumstances that may warrant an exception must be approved in advance by the Graduate School.