Maternity Leave and FMLA Leave

Introduction: A Maternity Leave Story with a Happy Ending

When I was in a tenure-track position at Colby College, and pregnant with my first child, I was recruited to apply for an assistant professor position at another college.   It was early in my pregnancy and based on lessons I learned from my father (a practicing attorney) I decided not to reveal my status until after I had received a written job offer.   

When I told my prospective department chair that I was pregnant I also explained that I wanted to become a valuable member of the Economics Department, but given my due date (August 24) I would need some sort of accomodation during the first semester.  I asked what the institution's maternity leave policy was and found the Department Chair didn't know.  It was almost a month before I heard back.  The response was that I could have a fully paid leave that extended until September 30, but would be expected to be in the classroom (teaching 3 courses)  -- regardless of when I delivered my baby.

In contrast, my home institution's maternity policy would allow me to take the fall semester off from teaching, at full pay, and with the expectation that I would perform research and service work once I had medically recovered from childbirth (typically 6-8) weeks.  I decided not to leave my home institution.

In 1996 I was back on the job market, looking for a tenure-track position closer to my extended family and with more job opportunities for my husband.  Hampden-Sydney College was hiring and seemed to be an attractive place to work, so I applied. 

I had two children at the time and was thinking that I might want to have a third.  I searched the College's web pages for a maternity leave policy and found none.  So, I waited until I had a written job offer and then asked my prospective department chair: "I wouldn't plan to have a baby during the middle of the school year, but if I did become pregnant with a due date during the year  -- what is the institution's maternity leave policy for faculty?"

I was told that the college had no maternity leave policy and that I needed to pose my question to the Dean of Faculty.  So I asked my prospective dean the same question. His answer was, "What do you want?"  I negotiated for what I wanted and had it in writing that very day. 

The next fall the faculty of Hampden-Sydney College created a standing Gender Issues committee - with four elected faculty members and one appointed by the dean.  A few days later the dean of faculty was in my office asking me to serve on this committee.  Our first charge:  to formulate a maternity leave policy for faculty.  As I started to do research on what federal mandates applied and what other colleges and university policies stipulated I was surprised at the level of non-compliance.  I wanted to be meticulous in my research to make sure we got our policy rightAdditionally, I realized there was a huge gap in the academic research on pregnancy discrimination in higher education. 

 In 1998 the Faculty and Board of Trustees of Hampden-Sydney College adopted a maternity leave policy for faculty that not only complies with federal law -- but also embodies best practices.  (

This was the beginning of more than a decade's worth of research examining the contrasts of what federal law mandates in the treatment of women employees who are, or may become pregnant  -- and the realities of the higher education workplace. Nobody should have to become a part-time legal scholar just to make sure they get the benefits that are required under federal law.  The purpose of my research, and this web site in particular, is to clarify federal mandates and articulate best practices for the benefits of departments seeking to hire the best faculty employees and for faculty members who need the benefits that federal law mandates.