Graduate Students Personal Time Off (PTO) and Sick Leave Policy

This PTO and Sick Leave Policy is also included as a document within our department's Policy Manual, available here.

Original policy May 2020; Major revisions proposed by Climate Committee June 2023; Voted by faculty July 2023; Approved by department head August 16, 2023

Several individuals, committees in the Department of Chemistry, and campus units reviewed and offered guidance toward the department’s personal time off (PTO) guidelines. These include DCGSAC student representatives, the Student Wellness Coalition, the Climate Committee, the Department Head, the Assistant Director of Graduate Diversity and Climate, the Director of Graduate Studies, the Advisory Committee, and representatives from campus units that include the Office of University Counsel, Labor and Employee Relations, Illinois Human Resources, and Graduate Student Success.

Campus Holidays and Personal Time Off (PTO)

The Department of Chemistry is committed to providing graduate students with opportunities to take campus holidays and PTO away from the rigors of Ph.D.-related research and teaching. By having time off, graduate students are more creative and productive when they return. The guidelines below are minimal; faculty research advisors (henceforth “advisors”) may be more generous, in consultation with the Director of Graduate Studies. Any additional PTO is considered to be time off from “student” activities and is at the discretion of the student’s advisor. Advisors are expected to discuss this policy annually with their graduate students and to abide by this policy.

This policy is superseded by Graduate College, LAS, or campus policies, or Collective Bargaining Agreements, where they are applicable. Questions or concerns related to this graduate student policy should be communicated to the Director of Graduate Studies.

Although the University does not explicitly specify compensated time off for graduate students, the Department of Chemistry provides PTO for all Chemistry graduate students regardless of their % appointment, noting that some students may have no formal % appointment at all (e.g., students on a full fellowship).

Chemistry graduate students who are not on full fellowships are paid on an 11-month basis, typically as Teaching Assistants (TA) for parts of their early years and as Research Assistants (RA) for their remaining years of graduate study. Appointments in Chemistry are generally paid at 50% FTE for the nine academic months and 33% FTE in the three summer months. FTE means “full-time equivalent”, where 1 FTE is one unit of full-time work, typically 40 hours per week.

The 50% TA/RA duties are not the only expectations for a graduate student throughout their time in our degree program. Each graduate student employee is also explicitly a “student,” as signified by enrolling in and receiving credit for CHEM 599 and having their tuition and fees covered year-round by their PI’s research grant, a fellowship, or other sources. The CHEM 599 contribution constitutes the remaining hours per week spent on research, study, and related tasks, beyond the TA/RA effort. The department’s Ph.D. degree program expects student contributions via year-round research, study, and related tasks independent of paid TA/RA duties.

Graduate students in Chemistry cannot be required to work more than 55 hours per week. Students cannot be required to work on both weekend days (Saturday and Sunday). Each advisor has the discretion to decide whether one weekend day each week (e.g., Saturday) is a standard work day for their group, but advisors may not count a missed weekend day as PTO (or sick leave). If a student is consistently not working in accord with the advisor's expectations, where those expectations have been made clear to all students in advance, then the advisor can decide that the student should find another research group, in accord with the relevant procedures in the Graduate Manual.

Advisors must allow students time off for the 14 or 15 campus holidays each academic year, as listed on the campus Human Resources webpage. These holidays include New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Day, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day, Election Day (in a year with a qualifying election), and Christmas Day, as well as several designated holidays and gift days. Advisors should never expect that students will work on campus holidays.

In addition to campus holidays, graduate students in the Department of Chemistry are expected to be engaged full-time as a student or researcher, even though they are paid at less than full time. Accordingly, graduate students in the Department of Chemistry are allowed 24 days of PTO per academic year away from their academic obligations (research, teaching, and studying), to give a total of 38 or 39 days off per year. PTO for an academic year is valid from August 16 through August 15. Unused PTO may roll over to the next academic year with the consent of the advisor.

Illinois law requires the University to reasonably accommodate its students’ religious beliefs, observances, and practices with regard to admissions, class attendance, and the scheduling of examinations and work requirements. The campus website has clear instructions for how a student can request an official absence letter as part of a request for accommodation for religious observances, if the student’s advisor requires such a request.

PTO for Fellowship-Holders or Other Students with Reduced TA/RA Appointments

The Department of Chemistry expects that graduate students who hold fellowships, internships, or other appointments that reduce their TA/RA appointments below 50% but are still engaged full-time as a student or researcher should be eligible for the same total amount of PTO as those who hold 50% TA/RA appointments. This amount may be adjusted only if warranted; for example, when the graduate student is not engaged full-time as a student or researcher.

PTO Communication and Exceptions

Both advisors and students are expected to put in a good-faith effort to accommodate PTO whenever possible, with minimal disruption to research and academic progress. Advisors can expect graduate students to communicate their plans for PTO in writing well ahead of time. Whenever possible, students should provide two weeks of notice for PTO absences of more than two days to avoid misunderstandings or conflicts that disrupt research, mentoring, or other laboratory procedures. PTO shall be calculated in no finer than half-day increments. Work-related activities such as recruiting graduate students for the department, and professional development activities aimed at advancing students’ careers such as attending conferences and job interviews, and participating in industry tours and seminars, are part of the traditional graduate education and shall not be counted as PTO. University HR policy directly covers various leave topics such as bereavement leave, jury duty leave, military leave, and many others and should be consulted for the current rules on these topics.

If the advisor and the student disagree on whether a particular activity constitutes PTO, then the situation should be brought to the attention of the Director of Graduate Studies.

In the case of weather-related absences (campus-declared snow days, tornado warnings, etc.) where the student’s well-being is endangered if they travel to or from the laboratory, an exception must be given, and no PTO shall be used.

International Graduate Students and PTO

When an international graduate student visits their home country or otherwise travels internationally, they might encounter visa administrative issues that are beyond the control of the student, their advisor, or the department. Such issues might prevent the student from returning to their lab within the originally agreed PTO time frame. In such a situation, the student and advisor should consult with the Director of Graduate Studies as soon as possible to discuss options.

Before an international student departs the US, they should consult with their advisor to create a plan on how best to keep up with their research obligations in the event of a visa-related delay. An international graduate student is required to consult with ISSS before traveling internationally.

Sick Leave Policy

Graduate students in the Department of Chemistry are allowed 13 sick leave days per academic year. Unused sick leave does not roll over to the next academic year. Sick leave days should not be used in place of PTO days. PTO can be used if sick leave is exhausted, but not vice versa. The department expects that graduate students who hold fellowships, internships, or other appointments that reduce their TA/RA appointments below 50% should be eligible for the same total amount of sick leave as those who hold 50% TA/RA appointments. The amount of sick leave may be increased if warranted. An advisor cannot require a student to disclose the specific medical basis of their sick leave.

Mental Health Concerns

Recurring occurrences of acute or chronic mental health issues beyond the 13 sick leave days, including health concerns that involve regular therapy, counseling, or medical attention, should be discussed with the advisor, and appropriate accommodations should be arranged after consulting with OAE (the campus Office of Access and Equity) and DRES (the campus Division of Disability Resources & Educational Services). If a student cannot reach an agreement with their advisor on proper accommodations, then they should arrange for a meeting with the Director of Graduate Studies.