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Many unaware of UI family-leave change

BY AUDREY ROEN | NOVEMBER 18, 2011 7:20 AM

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Former University of Iowa Staff Council member David Johnson said he was shocked to find he couldn't use sick leave hours when he was expecting his first child in 2002.

Instead, his time off would come out of his vacation hours.

"The whole situation was really screwy," he said. "All three of my children, I had to take vacation time because at that point they didn't have the interpretation of that family-caregiving leave"

Two years after judges dismissed a lawsuit Johnson brought against the UI — and amid growing pressure from graduate students — the university's Human Resources Department changed the family-caregiving policy for all employees in 2008. The change allowed biological fathers to use sick-leave hours when caring for newborns.

But Johnson and others said UI officials only implemented the change on the department's website and didn't alert faculty or staff about the alterations.

"I think that people still don't know that they can apply those hours when taking care of their children," Johnson said. "This means some people do not use this type of leave when taking care of their children, meaning less bonding time with their newborns."

But Kevin Ward, a UI assistant vice president for Human Resources, disagreed with Johnson. Ward said posting the changes to the website was sufficient.

"The family-care leave has been in consideration for quite some time," said Ward, later noting, "We tried to put a clarification together in 2008 so that they would apply it in a consistent fashion … It has always been necessary for care of injured family."

Representatives for the Campaign to Organize Graduate Students said they heard about Johnson's efforts to include biological fathers in the family-care leave policy, and now UI graduate employees can use their sick days, instead of vacation days to take care of family members.

Mary Greer, who served on UI Staff Council with Johnson during the lawsuit, said she disagrees with Johnson. Human Resources did a good job of keeping faculty members updated, as they still do, she said.

"I'm an adoptive parent, and I had to look into the caregiving leave specifically," said Greer, who adopted children at the very beginning of Johnson's efforts.

Greer said she was appreciative of the changes made in 2008 but believes the faculty members should take the initiative when requesting from Human Resources how many hours they can and cannot use to care for their families.

Kari Thompson, the president of COGS, agreed with Greer.

"Disappointingly, people don't read their contract cover to cover," Thompson said. "So unless people have specific situations in which they might be able to use family illness leave, they haven't ever explored what their options are."


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