4.8 Unpaid Leaves

This policy was last updated January 1, 2021. See the update history page for more information.

4.8.1 Leave of Absence Without Pay

4.8.1.1 Approval of Voluntary Leave Without Pay

Voluntary leaves of absence without pay may be granted for a specified period of time, normally for educational or public service reasons and because the Institute wishes to maintain an association with the individual. A supervisor may authorize an individual to take, in any calendar year, unpaid leave of a duration not to exceed the individual's normal pay period. Requests for leaves of more than the normal pay period but less than six months must be approved by the supervisor, the department head, and the appropriate Human Resources Officer for the department.

Unpaid leaves of absence of six months to one year in duration must be approved by the supervisor, the department head, the senior officer for the area, and the appropriate Human Resources Officer for the department. When a position is not being held for the employee who has requested leave, approval must be obtained from the Vice President for Human Resources. Unpaid leaves of absence may not exceed one year, but may be renewed in special circumstances with the approval of the Vice President for Human Resources.

Eligible staff members are entitled to a leave of absence without pay for certain medical and family leaves under the Family and Medical Leave Act. See Section 4.8.3. Note that many of the leaves covered by the unpaid FMLA may also be paid for eligible employees under the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Act or by MIT’s own sick leave and family policies. Section 4.3.6, Section 2.3.2, 4.3.3.4.4. The granting of unpaid leaves of absence requires an assurance of reemployment by the department upon the termination of the leave, unless specifically authorized otherwise by the Vice President for Human Resources, or unless the position has been eliminated by reduction in the work force or operational change under circumstances applying equally to other similar jobs in the department. Unpaid leaves without pay similarly require the employee's intention to return to work at the end of the approved leave period.

4.8.1.2 Request for Voluntary Leave Without Pay

An Employee Leave of Absence Request form should be completed at least two weeks prior to the anticipated beginning of a leave without pay. All signatures necessary for authorization of the leave must be obtained by the employee before the form is forwarded to Human Resources for final approval and processing. The form contains specific instructions for its completion.

4.8.1.3 Furlough

The involuntary placement of an employee on an unpaid leave of absence for a defined period due to lack of funds is a furlough. Placement of an employee on an unpaid leave at regularly scheduled periods due to lack of work (for example, during the summer) is generally not considered a furlough.

A furlough must be for at least one week and no more than three months in any 12-month period (running from the first day of the furlough). Hourly paid staff may be placed on furlough in one-day intervals. Other employees may be placed on furlough at a minimum of one-week intervals. Employees may not take accrued vacation time while on furlough. Departments must send a statement of reasons for review and approval by the Department Head and the appropriate Human Resources Officer. Affected employees must receive 8 weeks' notice (more notice is strongly encouraged for furloughs of one month or more). At the end of the furlough period, an employee must be restored to his or her regular position, hours or percent effort, and pay, unless the employee is laid off pursuant to Section 6.3, Layoff for Lack of Work of Funds. Like employees on other unpaid leaves of absence, an employee on furlough for 22 working days or more during the year receives a prorated share of his or her normal vacation and sick leave for that year. (See 4.16.4 and 4.16.5 below.)

In very limited circumstances and with the prior approval of the Executive Vice President and the Provost, exceptions to certain provisions in this section may be made (such as a shorter notice period, or allowing vacation to be used during furlough). In such cases, the furlough letter must specify these exceptions.

4.8.1.4 Continuation of Benefits During Leave Without Pay

Employees on leaves of absence without pay may maintain Institute benefits coverage by making special arrangements with MIT Benefits to continue their contributions.

4.8.1.5 Vacation and Sick Time Accrual While on Leave Without Pay

An employee on leave of absence without pay for 22 continuous working days or more during the year receives a prorated share of his or her normal vacation earned that year. Authorized leaves of absence without pay will count as continuous service in determining length of service at the Institute for vacation purposes.

4.8.2 Leave for Religious Observances

Individual employees may on occasion have personal preference with regard to their religious needs which, according to both federal and state laws, must be reasonably accommodated by an employer. "Reasonable accommodation" means such accommodation to the employee's religious needs "as shall not cause undue hardship in the conduct of the employer's business." Undue hardship includes situations where the employee's presence is necessary to the orderly transaction of the employer's business and the work cannot be performed by another employee of similar qualifications, or no such employee is available; situations where the employee's presence is required because of an emergency; and situations where such accommodation would result in significant added cost to the employer.

Leave may be granted to employees who have given reasonable notice of intention to be absent to observe, as a requirement of his or her religion, the Sabbath or any other Holy Day that falls on a workday. Employees are not paid for such absence; the absence should, wherever practical in the judgement of the supervisor, be made up by working an equivalent amount of time without incurring overtime costs. Alternatively, an employee may elect to charge such absences for religious observances to vacation or, in the case of the Support Staff, personal leave balances.

The rights of other employees may not be infringed upon in order to accommodate the religious needs of an employee.

4.8.3 Leaves Provided Under the Family and Medical Leave Act

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)  provides for unpaid leaves for certain medical and family reasons, as listed below.  MIT provides these unpaid leaves to regular full-time or part-time employees who are working 50% or more of a normal workweek and who have been employed by the Institute for a least one year.

Many unpaid FMLA leaves also fall under the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, as described in Section 4.3.6. For benefits-eligible staff, leaves covered by the FMLA may be paid under MIT’s paid leave policies for illness and family leaves. Leaves under the FMLA, the PFMLA, and MIT’s paid sick and family leave benefits all run concurrently with one another, and with any other state or federal leave laws, to the extent there is any overlap. 

Unpaid FMLA leaves are provided as follows:

Employee's own serious health condition (including conditions related to pregnancy and childbirth);

Family Leaves

  • Parental Leave:
    • Birth and care of the employee's newborn child (leave must be completed within 12 months of the date of birth); or
    • Placement of a child with the employee for adoption or foster care (leave must be completed within 12 months of the date of placement)
  • Serious health condition of the employee's child, parent, or spouse* requiring the employee's participation in care.
  • Family member in the Armed Services
    • Any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee's spouse/partner, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on active duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to active duty in support of a contingency operation; or
    • To care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the employee is the spouse/partner, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of the service member.

* This policy applies to a "domestic partner" in the same way as a spouse if the employee has filed a Declaration of Domestic Partnership with MIT Benefits.

Eligible employees are entitled to leave of up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period. For purposes of this policy, the 12 month period begins on the first day of the leave and ends 12 months later. For example, if an employee begins an FMLA leave on November 6, 2021, the 12-month period is November 6, 2021 through November 5, 2022. Specific provisions and requirements for each type of FMLA leave are detailed below.

4.8.3.1 Leave Related to an Employee's Own Serious Health Condition

Leaves for the employee’s own Serious Health Condition may be approved in continuous periods, intermittent periods, or by a reduced work schedule, in accordance with certification from the employee's health care provider. See the HR Leave site for the definition of a health care provider under the FMLA. In cases of reduced schedules or intermittent leaves, a department supervisor may transfer the employee temporarily to an alternate position if the employee’s reduced schedule or intermittent leave is foreseeable based on planned medical treatment, and departmental work can accommodate that alternate schedule.

Serious health conditions relating to pregnancy and childbirth are covered under the FMLA. For benefits-eligible employees, Sick Time or SIRP may be paid for leave relating to pregnancy and childbirth; for non-benefits eligible staff working in Massachusetts, the State Formula Rate may be paid for such leaves under the PFMLA. See Sections 4.4.3.2, 4.3.3 regarding Sick Leave and SIRP; Section 4.3.6 regarding the PFMLA.

MIT prohibits discrimination and harassment due to pregnancy or a condition related to pregnancy such as lactation or the need to express breast milk for a nursing child. See Policies & Procedures Section 9.2, Nondiscrimination, Section 9.4, Harassment, and Section 9.4.1.3 Gender-Based Harassment. MIT will make reasonable accommodations upon request for pregnant and nursing employees. For more information on protections for pregnant and nursing mothers, including FAQs, see this state website.  

4.8.3.2 Family Leaves

Care for the Employee's Newborn Child, Newly Adopted Child, or Newly-Placed Foster Child

As stated above, the FLMA provides unpaid leave to care for a newborn child , a newly adopted child, or a child newly-placed in the employee’s foster care. These leaves are normally taken in continuous periods and must be taken within 12 months of the birth, adoption or placement of the child. Intermittent leave or reduced schedules may be arranged only if agreed to by both the department supervisor and the employee.

Leave to care for a newborn or newly-adopted or newly-placed child may be paid by MIT’s Paid Parental Leave or Bonding Leave policies for eligible employees. Section 4.4.1.

Spouses who are both employed by the Institute are allowed a combined total of 12 weeks of FMLA leave within a 12-month period for the care of a newborn, newly-adopted child, or newly-placed child.

Illness of a Family Member; Members of the Armed Services

Under the FMLA, employees may request unpaid leave to care for family members in the following situations:

  • To care for a family member with a  Serious Health Condition
    •  Note that the definition of a family member for the FMLA differs from that used under the PFMLA or MIT's Sick and Family Leave policies.
    • Requests for unpaid leave to care for other seriously ill family members or members of an employee's household may be considered on a case-by-case basis.
  • Family Member currently or formerly in the Armed Services:
    • To handle any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse/partner, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on active duty or has been notified of an impending call or order to active duty in support of a contingency operation.
    • To care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness if the employee is the spouse/partner, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin of the service member.

For a leave to care for a sick family member including a Covered Service member, an employee may request leave in continuous periods, intermittent periods, or by a reduced work schedule to a total of 12 weeks, in accordance with certification from the family member's health care provider. An employee may take qualifying exigency leave on an intermittent basis up to a total of 12 weeks. In cases of reduced schedules or intermittent leaves, a department supervisor may transfer the employee temporarily to an alternate position if the employee’s reduced schedule or intermittent leave is foreseeable based on planned medical treatment, and departmental work can accommodate that alternate schedule.

While all leave under the FMLA are unpaid, eligible employees may receive paid concurrent leave under MIT's Sick Time policy, the MIT SIRP policy, MIT's Paid Parental Leave, the Mass. Earned Sick Time Law, and MIT's Paid Family Leave policies (see Sections 4.3.2 Sick Time for Benefits Eligible Staff, 4.2.3 Serious Illness Reduced Pay, 4.4.1 Paid Parental Leave, 4.4.6, Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Act, and 4.4.7 Sick leave under the Massachusetts Earned Sick Time law. ;

4.8.3.3 Request and Approval of FMLA Leave

Employees are expected to provide as much advance notice of the need for leave as is possible to allow for planning of coverage in the work area. Notice of at least two weeks is preferred. Leave of Absence Request forms are available from the Human Resources Department on campus and in the Human Resources Office at Lincoln Laboratory.

In addition, certification from a qualified health care provider will be required for approval of a leave to care for a seriously ill family member covered by the FMLA or in the case of an employee's own serious health condition. Such certification should be provided prior to the beginning of the leave (or in as timely a manner as possible) and should include: the date on which the illness/condition commenced; the estimated duration of the illness/condition; a statement that the illness/condition warrants the participation of the employee to provide care (in the case of an ill family member); and, in cases in which intermittent leave is advised, the dates and duration of treatments to be given. Copies of the Certification of Health Care Provider form are available for this purpose.

Failure to provide requested information in a timely manner may result in the delay or denial of FMLA leave.

4.8.3.4 Notice of FMLA Rights by Supervisors

It is the responsibility of supervisors to provide information to employees regarding their rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act, and terms and conditions of Institute FMLA leave policies. Leave time may not be counted towards FMLA allowances until the employee is notified in writing of the defined leave period which will be counted towards their 12 week FMLA entitlement.

4.8.3.5 Continuation of Benefits During Unpaid FMLA Leave

Health, dental and vision plan coverage and life insurance continue during FMLA leave periods, provided the employee continues to pay the employee's share of the coverage costs. Vacation and Sick Time generally does not accrue during a continuous unpaid leave of at least one pay period.

Contributions to the MIT Supplemental 401(k) Plan are not allowed during leaves without pay. Deposits to the Institute's Flexible Reimbursement Account Program also stop during leaves without pay; however, claims may continue to be filed against an account for a limited period.

Employees should contact the Benefits Office for detailed information and payment arrangements regarding benefits continuation during leave without pay periods.

4.8.3.6 Returning to Work Following FMLA Leave

At the completion of the approved leave period, an employee will be reinstated to his or her former position or a position of equivalent classification and pay within the department. If the position has been eliminated (due to a reduction in the work force or other operational change under circumstances applying equally to other similar positions in the department), the leave will end, however, efforts will be made to find other suitable employment at the Institute in the same manner as the Institute undertakes for employees not on FMLA leave.

In the case of leave related to an employee's own Serious Health Condition, notice from the health care provider certifying the employee's ability to return to work may be required.

Return from leave should be at the same workweek schedule at which the employee was working when he or she left. However, a supervisor may agree to have a full-time employee return on a part-time schedule if it is mutually convenient