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At Harvard, your physical and emotional health—and that of your family—come first.  That is why we offer a broad menu of leaves of absence and related benefits that provide the time and resources to address and heal from health challenges.

Please contact Ciara Swan, our HR Generalist and Leave Specialist, with any questions you may have about taking the time you need to care for yourself or a loved one through a leave of absence.

Ciara Swan

HR Generalist


Ciara joined the HLS HR team in December of 2019. Currently serving as the HR Generalist, she helps to support staff through transitional periods such as return to campus, leave of absence, workers compensation, and is happy to assist with all student employment related items. Ciara is passionate about providing the best client experience while playing her part in the development and journey of each individual she meets. Outside of the office, she enjoys all things fitness and music related; you can find her doing a Peloton workout or crafting the perfect playlist. A cup of coffee and a good laugh are an every day necessity in her book!

Medical Leaves of Absence

All requests for Medical Leaves of Absence will be processed through Lincoln Financial Group.

Below we have provided some details on some of the laws and policies around medical leaves.

  • Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

    In accordance with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Harvard provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave (”FMLA Leave”) to eligible employees during a twelve-month period (as defined below) for one or more of the following reasons:

    • For incapacity due to pregnancy, prenatal medical care, or child birth;
    • To care for the employee’s child after birth or placement for adoption or foster care;
    • To care for the employee’s spouse (which includes qualified domestic partner as per Harvard policy), son or daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition; or
    • For a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform his or her job; or
    • To attend to certain obligations relating to a family members’ military service.

    Additional unpaid time off is allowed for Multiple Births/Adoptions (8 weeks per child born or adopted concurrently, under the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act); and Military Family Leave (up to 26 weeks, depending on the reason for the leave).

    Employees may choose to use accrued paid leave while taking FMLA leave. Accrued vacation, personal days, and compensatory time may be used during any FMLA leave. If the leave is for the employee’s own serious illness or childbirth, sick time and/or Short Term Disability benefits will generally be available. If the leave is for a family illness, the employee must use accrued “family sick” days at the onset of the leave; after exhausting those days, the employee may choose to use accrued vacation or personal time during the remainder of the leave. In order to use paid leave during FMLA leave, employees must comply with normal paid leave policies.

    If the leave is for an employee’s work-related injury, Workers’ Compensation benefits will generally be available. However, due to differences in the two statutes, there may be cases where Workers’ Compensation benefits might end but FMLA leave would continue, or vice versa.

    Other University policies and benefit programs may provide salary continuation and additional benefits. Harvard will simultaneously administer any policies and benefit programs that apply (for example, Maternity and Parental Leaves, Short Term Disability Plan, or Workers’ Compensation) when an employee is on a Family and Medical Leave.

    Check out Harvie for more information.

  • Massachusetts Paid Family Medical Leave (MAPFML)

    Under the new Harvard Paid Family and Medical Leave Policy, eligible employees may be eligible to receive the following consistent with the new Policy:

    Paid Medical Leave: Beginning January 1, 2021, employees may take up to 20 weeks of paid Medical Leave in a benefit year due to the employee’s own serious health condition that incapacitates the employee from performing the essential functions of the employee’s job.

    Paid Family Leave: Employees may take paid Family Leave for the following reasons beginning January 1, 2021:

    • Up to 12 weeks to bond with a child during the first 12 months after the child’s birth, adoption, or foster placement. (Note that with the new bonding policy, parents with new children in 2020 may be eligible for additional leave time in 2021.)
    • Up to 26 weeks to provide care to a family member who is a covered service member.
    • Up to 12 weeks because of any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that a family member is on active duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to active duty in the Armed Forces.
    • Beginning July 1, 2021, employees may take up to 12 weeks of paid Family Leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition.

    Total Leave: Employees may take up to a maximum of 26 weeks, in the aggregate, of paid leave per benefit year for the purposes listed above.

    Check out Harvie for more details around MAPFML

  • Short-Term and Long-Term Disability (STD/LTD)

    Short-Term Disability

    Harvard provides eligible employees with STD benefits of up to 26 weeks in a 52-consecutive week period due to injury or illness. You do not need to enroll and there is no cost to you. Please refer to our STD Overview for more information.

    Long-Term Disability

    LTD helps you replace your salary and protect your financial security if you are unable to work due to injury or illness for more than 180 calendar days. LTD will replace 60% of the employee’s wage.

    You must enroll in this benefit to be eligible to receive coverage. Employees can enroll within their first 30 days or during open enrollment. It will be important for employees to consider that any enrollment after their first 30 days will required proof of medical documentation.

    Please refer to our LTD Overview for more information. Harvard’s carrier for STD and LTD is Lincoln Financial Group.

Personal vs Dependent Medical Leave

You may need to take Medical leave for your personal health or for the health of a dependent. Below we have outlined the differences for personal versus dependent medical leave.

  • Personal Medical Leave

    If an employee is taking leave for a personal medical need, such as an injury or giving birth:

    When you return from a personal medical leave:

    • For all personal medical leaves (except maternity) a completed return to work clearance form is required to be completed by your provider and submitted at least two business days before your anticipated return to work.  Please submit the completed form to Ciara Swan, HR Generalist or
      • This form should also be provided to Lincoln Financial Group. Review this video on how to report your return to work to LFG.
    • Employees returning from their own medical leave are welcome to submit an accommodation request by completing the HLS Reasonable Accommodation Request Form
  • Dependent Medical Leave

    If an employee is taking leave for a dependent’s medical need:

Non-Medical (Personal) Leaves of Absence

All personal leaves are unpaid and may be available to employees (non-teaching exempt staff and overtime eligible non-bargaining unit staff; bargaining unit staff should consult their collective bargaining agreement).

All request for unpaid leave must be discussed with the supervisor/department head, HR Business Partner and Ciara Swan, HR Generalist. All conditions of the leave agreement must be established and agreed to in writing prior to the start of the leave.

To request an unpaid personal leave, complete the Unpaid Leave of Absence Request Form and submit to your manager for approval and signature. Once the form is completed, please return it to either your HR Business Partner and/or Ciara Swan, HR Generalist for their approval and signature.

  • Short Term Personal Leave


    31-90 days


    A short-term unpaid leave may be available to employees, depending upon the staffing requirements of the department. The approval of a personal leave of absence is based on the reason for the absence, the service the employee and whether or not the department expects to be able to provide reemployment.

    When should this be utilized:

    This leave is appropriate to cover seasonal periods when the workload of the department is lighter than normal and the employee volunteers to take time off without pay. In such cases the job must be held for the employee. Employees on a seasonally based short-term leave at department request may accept temporary employment within or outside the University, although such employment must be of casual nature and not include benefits.

  • Long Term Personal Leave


    91 days – 1 year


    Employees with five or more years of service may be eligible for an unpaid long-term personal leave, if in the opinion of the supervisor and the local human resources officer, the leave can be demonstrated to be mutually beneficial for the employee and the University. For an employee with fewer than five years of service, the leave may not exceed one year.

    When should this be utilized:

    This leave is designed to contribute to the personal growth of the employee. It may be granted for personal circumstances, family matters, unpaid second career exploration or reasons deemed appropriate by the University. Employees may renew a long-term personal leave for up to one year additional beyond the initial leave, subject to review and agreement by the supervisor and local HR Business Partner.

  • Career Development Leave


    90 days – 1 year


    Employees with three or more years of service may be eligible for an unpaid career development leave.

    When should this be utilized:

    This leave is designed to contribute to the professional growth of the employee. Career development leaves may be granted if, in the opinion of the supervisor and the local HR Business Partner the leave can be demonstrated to be mutually beneficial to the employee and the University; for example, if the leave enhances the employee’s contribution to current or possible future jobs at the University. Employees may renew for one additional year beyond the initial leave, subject to review and agreement by the supervisor and local HR Business Partner.

  • Government Service Leave


    A government service leave will be granted for a period equal to prior service, not to exceed two years.


    An employee may not be granted a leave if accepting a civil service position at any level of government.

    When should this be utilized:

    This leave for the purpose of government service will be granted to an employee for service in an appropriate capacity at the federal, state or local level.

  • Extended Parental Leave


    This leave must end no later than one year from the date the absence began and cannot exceed the period of prior employment.


    Employees eligible for FMLA leave may request an extended unpaid parental leave. There is no guarantee of reinstatement after leaves lasting longer than 13 weeks unless provided under other family and medical and/or parental leaves or agreed to in advance and in writing by the supervisor and your HR Business Partner.

  • Domestic Violence Leave


    Up to 15 days of unpaid leave in any 12-month period, which may be supplemented by accrued sick leave, or other types of paid time off.

    When should this be utilized:

    To provide Harvard staff and faculty who experience, or whose family member experiences, domestic violence or related abusive behavior with job-protected leave from the workplace.

    More information found here:

For non-union benefits eligible staff:

 For HUCTW members, please see the union contract (pages 28-30)

Responsibilities & Procedures

All requests for unpaid leaves must be discussed with the supervisor/department head, HR Business Partner and/or Ciara Swan, HR Generalist, as soon as the employee is aware they will be making such a request. All conditions of the leave agreement must be established and agreed to in writing.

Terms and Conditions of Leaves of Absence

The following applies to all unpaid leaves of absence as described above. These terms and conditions to not apply for unpaid absences of fewer than 30 calendar days or to vacation or sick time prior to the beginning of an unpaid leave. The employee and their supervisor/department head and , HR Business Partner and/or Ciara Swan, HR Generalist must agree to leave terms and conditions in writing prior to the start of the leave.

  • Employment During Leave

    An employee may not work in a position with benefits while on leave unless agreed to in writing prior to the beginning of the leave. Working in such a position while on leave (except for approved government service) will result in forfeiture of the leave of absence and termination of University employment.

    Working in a temporary, non-benefited position for the University while on a leave of absence may be permitted provided such employment is not inconsistent with the basis for the leave of absence. The employee must obtain advance approval from the department from which they are on leave.

  • Vacation and Sick Time Accrual

    Vacation and sick pay do not accrue while an employee is on an unpaid leave of absence.

  • Benefits Continuation

    An employee on leave of absence may continue coverage under the Comprehensive Medical Program, Dental Assistance Plan, Group Life Insurance Plan and Long Term Disability Plan. The employee is responsible for their share of premium payments during the leave. The University may, under certain circumstances, recover insurance premiums paid during the leave if the employee fails to pay their portion of the premium. Employees continue to earn pension credit during a leave of absence provided they return to work upon termination of the leave of absence. Questions may be referred to the Benefits Office (617-496-4001).

    An unpaid leave of absence is counted as continuous service for all other benefits that have a length of service requirement, such as tuition assistance, disability benefits and longer-service vacation accrual.

  • Reinstatement of Employment

    An employee returning from a Short Term Personal, Career Development or Government Service unpaid leave of absence of no more than 90 days will be returned to their position (provided it still exists) or to an equivalent position with equivalent pay and employment benefits in the same department. There is no guarantee of return to work for leaves lasting longer than 90 days, unless agreed to in advance or provided under family and medical and/or parental leaves as stated above. All conditions of the leave agreement must be established and agreed to in writing prior to the start of the leave.

    Employees on a leave of no more than 90 days whose positions are eliminated while on leave of absence will be entitled to the same rights and benefits as other employees whose positions are eliminated. However, the employee will have no greater rights to reinstatement or other benefits and conditions of employment than if they had continued to work.

    If an employee fails to return to work as scheduled or to obtain an extension of the leave, the employment will be terminated.

How to Initiate an Unpaid Personal Leave

  1. Determine which unpaid personal leave as described above best fits the means of your needs.
  2. If you feel comfortable discussing this with your supervisor, begin the conversation there. If you do not feel comfortable to discuss this with your supervisor just yet, skip to step 3.
  3. Email your HR Business Partner and/or Ciara Swan, HR Generalist, to discuss your non-medical leave request. We ask that you please complete the Unpaid Leave of Absence Form and submit it to your manager for approval and signature prior to emailing HR. Please attach the form as completed by you and your manager as an attachment in your email.
  4. Your HR Business Partner and/or Ciara Swan, HR Generalist, will review your request and will confirm if you are approved or denied for such leave.  .

Upon your approval, please coordinate with your supervisor to discuss coverage as needed, prior to the start of your leave

FAQs About Leave

  • Will I accrue PTO while I am on leave?

    PTO may be accrued if you are approved for STD. If you are approved, the accrual of sick time, vacation time and personal time differs as follows:

    • Professional and administrative staff and eligible post-doctorate fellows will not accrue time off during leave.
    • Clerical and technical staff will accrue paid time off during leave.
    • Service and trade staff will accrue benefits as outlined in their collective-bargaining agreements.
  • What if I need to extend my leave?

    Please inform HR that you anticipate extending your leave beyond the current approved through date. You will need to provide Lincoln Financial Group the necessary documentation from your provider in order to extend the leave. If you’ve reached your maximum potential benefit date, contact HR for other potential leave options such as PTO usage or an unpaid personal leave.

  • How do I switch my medical leave from continuous to intermittent?

    Please inform HR, your supervisor, and Lincoln of your request to adjust your leave from continuous to an intermittent frequency. From there you should work with Lincoln to ensure they have the necessary documentation. You may need to complete a return-to-work clearance form with your provider to indicate your ability to return in an intermittent capacity. HR will provide the necessary documentation including time entry for the intermittent leave.

  • How do I report my intermittent time?

    If you are intermittent MA PFML, please review the MA PFML Intermittent Leave Time Reporting Instructions.

  • Who do I contact about payment questions?

    HR can help you to understand what percentage of pay you can anticipate receiving while on leave. Please contact Lincoln Financial Group for specific figures.

  • Will I receive holiday pay if a holiday falls during my leave time?

    You will be paid 100% of your pay for holidays that fall within an applicable waiting period. If the holiday falls outside of an applicable waiting period, you will receive the amount you are eligible for while on leave, which may be less than 100% of your regular pay. For specific questions, please contact HR Generalist, Ciara Swan.