Leaves of Absence

The primary objective of the University’s policies on leaves is to free its academic officers from their normal duties to conduct research, write, or otherwise engage in scholarly or professional activity. There are three types of faculty leaves for scholarly and professional purposes: sabbaticals, research leaves with or without salary, and exemptions from teaching duties. In addition, faculty are given leaves for medical reasons, child care, military or public service, and compelling personal need.

With the exception of sabbaticals, leaves for scholarly purposes are not an entitlement. They are granted at the discretion of the Provost on assurance from the department or school that they will not interfere with the staffing of its curricular obligations


Only full-time OOI and OOR are ordinarily entitled to leaves. Exceptions to this policy are permitted primarily when the part-time officer:

is a member of the United Doctors Association of Harlem Hospital and meets the requirements for taking leaves stated in their collective bargaining agreement with the University; qualifies for a leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, as described later in this section of the Handbook; or qualifies for a military leave under the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act of 1994.

General Policies and Procedures

Sabbaticals, leaves of absence for scholarly purposes, and exemptions from teaching duties normally correspond to an academic term or year.

Most leaves are authorized for no more than one year at a time, but the Provost may approve a second consecutive year on the recommendation of the dean or vice president.

Officers must request a leave when they plan to be absent from the University for more than a week during a regular academic term.

Leave of Absence for Scholarly Purposes

Leaves of absence are granted when full-time officers of instruction in a professorial grade, with the exception of those with a visiting title, wish to be relieved of their normal responsibilities, in full or in part, to conduct research or otherwise engage in scholarly activity. Non-professorial faculty are usually not eligible for these leaves. Exceptions may be made with the special permission of the dean or vice president and the Provost.

Research leaves are authorized only when the officer’s absence will not adversely affect the instructional program of the department or school, including the supervision of dissertations. It is, therefore, the responsibility of the officer to submit a request for the leave to the department chair or, where appropriate, the dean sufficiently far in advance to allow the department or school to plan for a replacement.

Exemptions from Teaching Duties

Exemptions from teaching duties (ETDs) are granted for periods during which a professor is receiving salary from the University but is excused, in full or in part, from teaching and other responsibilities. An ETD is appropriate when an external agency gives the University funding to free up a faculty member to conduct research or a school provides support for a paid research leave. An ETD may be partial or full, depending on the percentage of normal responsibilities performed and the amount of salary received.

The decision on when these leaves are taken requires the approval of the department chair and the Vice President for Arts and Sciences, as well as the Provost.

The restrictions on leaves of absence for scholarly purposes also apply in the case of ETDs. They are usually granted only to faculty in a professorial rank, excluding those with a visiting title, and may be taken only when they do not interfere with the instructional program of the faculty member’s department or school.

If the OOI is on the tenure track, the tenure clock stops during the time of the leave, which extends the up-or-out date.

Medical Leave

Full-time officers of instruction who cannot perform their responsibilities because of illness or injury are given leaves of absence with full salary for up to six months from the onset of the disability. If the disability continues for a longer period of time, the faculty member should apply to the University’s insurance carrier for long-term disability. If approved, he or she is given a medical leave without salary and may receive a portion of his or her salary from the University’s insurance carrier according to the terms of the University’s long-term disability program. Officers who are able to perform some of their normal responsibilities will be given a leave of absence with partial salary that may be supplemented with prorated disability payments from the insurance carrier.

FMLA Leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) gives certain full- and part-time employees of the University the right to unpaid leave to deal with the following:

  1. The birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child;
  2. A medical disability;
  3. A serious illness of a spouse, child, or parent; or
  4. A qualifying exigency, as defined by the federal Department of Labor, arising from a spouse, child, or parent serving on or being called to active military duty.

An eligible employee with a family member in the military is entitled to 26 weeks of FMLA leave. The maximum period of FMLA leave for other purposes is 12 weeks in any 12-month period.

To be eligible for an FMLA leave, faculty must have been employed and paid by the University for at least 12 months immediately preceding the commencement of the leave. In addition, they must have provided at least 1,250 hours of service during that 12-month period. Any compensated employment – regardless of title and including periods on the casual payroll – counts in determining if the officer meets these requirements. Leaves with salary also count, but those without salary do not.

A further description of the Family and Medical Leave Act and the University’s policies and procedures for implementing its provisions may be obtained from the Office of Human Resources.

Child Care Leave

Full-time faculty may take advantage of several types of leaves that are designed to assist them in taking care of newborn and newly adopted children. Medical leaves for childbirth, full or partial leaves for child care, the CUIMC Parental Leave program for faculty and the NYS Paid Family leave for OOR and are described below.

The University treats disabilities arising from pregnancy and childbirth like any other non-occupational disability. A pregnant officer is entitled to a medical leave of absence for the period surrounding the birth of her child during which her doctor certifies that she is unable to work. The officer receives full salary and benefits under the University’s salary continuation plan if the period of leave is six months or less. If the officer is disabled for a longer duration, she should apply to the University’s insurance carrier for long-term disability. If approved, she is placed on a medical leave of absence without salary and the University’s long-term disability carrier starts to make payments equal to a portion of her salary. As with other medical leaves, the University reserves the right to have the officer seen by a physician of its own choosing.

Full-time faculty with newborn infants may take a leave of absence without salary to care for the children. They may also teach a reduced course load on a partial leave of absence for that purpose. Similar privileges are given to full-time faculty who are primarily responsible for the care of a newly adopted child of less than school age, or if the child is disabled or meets New York State’s legal definition of “hard to place,” is less than 18 at the time the leave begins. Same-sex domestic partners of women who give birth and of individuals who adopt are also eligible for these leaves.

Parental leaves must begin within the first year after the birth or adoption of the new child but may end after it is over. The total period of leave, including the time during which a faculty member who has given birth is on a medical leave, normally may not exceed one year. Exceptions are permitted in cases of extended disabilities arising from pregnancy and childbirth.

The first 12 weeks of any childcare leave, including medical leaves required by pregnancy and childbirth, are deemed to be leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) as described below.

Faculty members are expected to request medical leaves for childbirth and child care leaves sufficiently early to permit their departments and schools to plan for their absence.

Parental Leave (OOI only)

CUIMC has implemented a new program for faculty that will make available a parental leave benefit to provide up to 13 weeks of paid parental leave.

Highlights of the parental leave policy include:

  • Eligible faculty members will be entitled to parental leave for up to 13 weeks at full salary (which, in some cases, will be a combination of medical and parental leave).
  • Eligibility includes full-time officers of instruction (excluding visiting faculty and those with “in clinical” in their title).
  • The period of parental leave must begin within the first year after the birth or adoption of the new child but may continue beyond that year.
  • Two parents can take leaves sequentially, but not simultaneously.
  • The program will be reviewed after two years.

The addition of this new parental leave policy is part of our effort to improve work-life balance for faculty. View the Full Policy Concerning Parental Leave.

Unpaid Personal

Full-time OOIs and OORs may request a leave of absence without salary to deal with a compelling personal need. Officers who take such leaves to care for seriously ill family members are entitled under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 to at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Longer periods of leave for that purpose and all other types of personal leaves are granted at the discretion of the Provost on the recommendation of the appropriate department chair, dean, or vice president. Personal leaves are generally limited to a maximum of one year. Note that under the NYS Paid Family Leave Law that became effective January 1, 2018, OORs are entitled to paid family leave of up to 50% of the state’s average weekly wage. See the NYS PFL Law for details on the leave.

NYS Paid Family Leave (Full time and Part-time OOR)

In accordance with the New York State Paid Family Leave Program (PFL), Columbia University provides eligible employees with job-protected, paid leave to bond with a new child, care for a loved one with a serious health condition or to help relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service.

PFL does not apply to Officers of Instruction, Postdoctoral Research Fellows, Postdoctoral Clinical Fellows, and Postdoctoral Residency Fellows. This program also does not apply to individuals who work for the University outside of New York State and does not apply to maritime employees.

OORs working within New York State who regularly work 20 hours or more per week, become eligible after 26 consecutive weeks; or regularly work less than 20 hours per week, after 175 days worked.

  • If the OOR seeks PFL for a reason that is also covered by FMLA, PFL and FMLA benefits will run concurrently.
  • Eligible OORs will continue their University-provided health insurance, when applicable. OORs will pay their regular share of the premiums during the leave.
  • Eligible OORs may choose to use accrued but unused vacation/personal/NYC Earned Sick Time to receive a full salary while on paid family leave, in lieu of the paid family leave benefit.

PFL benefits will be phased in starting in January 2018 and will be fully implemented in 2021.

Additional Resources

Sabbatical Leave (OOI only)

Each professor and associate professor with tenure is entitled to a sabbatical leave of one year at half base salary or a half year at full base salary after completing 12 terms of full-time teaching. Professors and associate professors with unmodified titles who have been awarded tenure of title following a University-wide ad hoc review enjoy a similar entitlement.

All terms of full-time teaching in a non-tenured professorial rank, other than those with a visiting title, count toward a sabbatical. Periods of non-sabbatical leave, including partial leave, do not, nor does a term of full-time teaching during a year in which a professor takes a one-term sabbatical leave at full salary.

Faculty who take other types of leaves are expected to serve in a full-time capacity for at least two years before taking a sabbatical, regardless of the number of semesters of credit they may have accumulated. Exceptions require the prior approval of the department chair and the dean or vice president as well as the special permission of the Provost.

Tenured faculty are ordinarily not entitled to sabbatical leaves while serving as officers of administration. Exceptions require the approval of the Provost and President. The time spent as an administrator is considered equivalent to full-time teaching and is credited toward a sabbatical leave, which should be taken at the first opportunity after the officer relinquishes the administrative post.

Leave for Lapse of Funding (OOR only)

If it is necessary to suspend the payment of salary during the course of a stated term of service because of a sudden and unexpected loss of funding, a full-time officer of research is placed on a leave of absence “for lapse of funding” until the end of the stated term or until funding is resumed, whichever occurs first. The leave may be extended, along with the officer’s appointment, for up to 12 months beyond the end of the stated term if the chair, director, dean, or vice president expects the officer to obtain new funding within that period and the Provost concurs.

An officer of research on a leave “for lapse of funding” continues to participate in the University’s health plans and receives basic life and basic long-term disability insurance for the duration of the leave. Both the University’s and the individual’s share of the cost of these benefits are paid by the school, department, institute, or center in which the officer is serving. Elective insurance benefits – additional life insurance and optional long-term disability insurance – may be continued at the officer’s expense. Eligibility for the salary continuation plan ends with an interruption in salary, and the University ceases to contribute to the officer’s retirement account. Officers and their family members retain the right to tuition exemption during the term in which a leave for lapse of funding begins but are not granted the benefit for the remaining duration of the leave.