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University Policy 89

Serious Illness and Disability Leave for Faculty

Initially Approved: October 2005
Posted: December 9, 2005
Revised: February 22, 2016
Revised: March 21, 2023

Policy Topic: Personnel; Academic Affairs
Administering Offices: Provost's Office; Human Resources and Payroll


It is the policy of Western Carolina University (“WCU” or the “University”) to provide its faculty with job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons in accordance with the University of North Carolina (“UNC”) policies 300.2.11 and 300.2.11[G], the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”), and the North Carolina Family Illness Leave Policy (25 NCAC OIE.1412).


This policy shall apply to all faculty who are exempt from the North Carolina Human Resources Act, subject to the eligibility requirements set forth in Section III of this policy. This policy is to be interpreted and administered in accordance with applicable provisions of UNC policy, the FMLA, and the NC Family Illness Act, as amended from time to time.


Faculty members are eligible for leave under this policy if they: (1) do not accrue sick leave and are eligible to participate in the N.C. Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System or the UNC Optional Retirement Program (i.e., continuing faculty who are employed at least 75% of full- time); and (2) are eligible for family and medical leave under the provisions of FMLA (i.e., who have been employed at least 1 year and have worked at least 1,040 hours within the last 12 months).

The Policy does not apply to faculty with fiscal year (11- or 12-month) appointments, because they are eligible for and accrue sick and vacation leave that can be used for FMLA leave.


An eligible faculty member must work for the University for one full academic year before becoming eligible for paid leave under this Policy.  After an eligible faculty member receives paid leave for a semester, they must work another full academic year before becoming eligible to request and receive another semester of paid leave.

An eligible faculty member may request leave with full pay and benefits for up to 1 semester, or 12 weeks over 2 consecutive semesters, exclusive of academic breaks, subject to the provisions of this policy.

A faculty member who resigns, is separated, retires or is otherwise terminated or discharged by the University during a scheduled leave period may not receive paid leave beyond the date of such resignation, separation, retirement, termination or discharge.

Paid leave under this Policy is not available during the period from May 16 through August 14.

If a faculty member has a qualifying condition after having exhausted this paid leave benefit, the faculty member may be eligible for alternative or additional disability benefits and should contact the Office of Human Resources for guidance.

Qualifying conditions under the FMLA include:

  1. The birth of a child or placement of a child for adoption or foster care;
  2. To bond with a child (leave must be taken within 1 year of the child’s birth or placement);
  3. To care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a qualifying serious health condition;
  4. For the employee’s own qualifying serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the employee’s job;
  5. For qualifying exigencies related to the foreign deployment of a military member who is the employee’s spouse, child, or parent.
  6. An eligible employee who is a covered servicemember’s spouse, child, parent, or next of kin may also take up to 26 weeks of FMLA leave in a single 12-month period to care for the servicemember with a serious injury or illness.


A. Submission of Leave Request to Department Head

When a faculty member finds it necessary to take such leave, a Faculty Serious Illness and Disability Leave Request Form must be submitted to the department head, or immediate supervisor if the faculty member’s unit does not have a department head, stating (i) the reason for the leave of absence; (ii) the requested start date and anticipated end date; and (iii) if applicable, the requested intermittent leave or reduced workload.

Requests should be submitted at least 60 days in advance of the leave start date or as soon as practicable after the need for the leave is foreseeable. Certification of the faculty member’s serious health condition, including a physician’s statement about the probable length of absence from normal duties, will be required by the Office of Human Resources and Payroll. If the leave request is for the purpose of caring for a family member or dependent, Human Resources shall request medical certification of that person’s serious health condition as well as other applicable information.

B. Eligibility for Leave

Following the review of the WCU Faculty Serious Illness and Disability Leave Request Form by their department head while consulting with Human Resources to obtain all necessary medical certification paperwork, the department head or immediate supervisor shall submit the signed request to the dean with recommendations related to the tenure clock or post-tenure review as applicable. The dean shall provide a copy of the signed request form to the faculty member, with a copy to Human Resources, within 14 calendar days from the dean’s receipt of the leave request.  Human Resources shall consult with the department head and the dean regarding the certification of the leave in accordance with eligibility as established under the FMLA entitlement.  

C. Extension of Leave

A faculty member may request an extension of leave provided under this policy and if approved will be a leave without pay. Requests should be made in accordance with the procedures set forth in Section V. Additionally, a faculty member may consult with Human Resources to determine eligibility for short-term disability benefits.


The department head is responsible for securing, to the extent possible, substitute personnel/coverage for the duration of the faculty member’s leave. The faculty member taking leave is not responsible for arranging for coverage. Once the department head/immediate supervisor has confirmed certification of the leave request, he/she must provide a coverage plan to the dean prior to the commencement of the leave. Any adjustments in work schedules within the department are at the department head's discretion with the dean's approval and are subject to departmental and institutional needs and resources.

After consultation with the provost, the dean determines funding for substitute personnel.

A faculty member must immediately notify the department head and dean, in writing, if they will not be returning from leave as planned. 


At the time a request for leave is granted, the faculty member, department head, and dean will agree in writing whether time spent on leave will count as probationary service; a 1-year extension of the tenure clock will be the default condition of leave. A lifetime maximum of two 1-year extensions of the tenure clock may be granted to a faculty member under this policy.

Notwithstanding the foregoing, a faculty member may opt out of the automatic 1-year extension to the tenure clock by indicating as such on the WCU Faculty Serious Illness and Disability Leave Request Form submitted to the department head and dean for signatures and forwarded to the Office of the Provost.

Tenured faculty members granted leave under this policy may have their 5-year post-tenure review delayed by a period determined by the provost in consultation with the faculty member, department head, and dean.

No professional activity, including development of promotion and tenure documentation, is expected or required while receiving paid leave.  The faculty member may choose to continue some professional duties during the semester of leave, but their supervisor cannot and should not require it.

Faculty will not be penalized in their condition of employment because they require time away from work caused by or related to conditions that necessitated the leave. The faculty member shall be reinstated to the same position held when the leave began or one of like pay, benefits, and other conditions of employment.


A. Coordination of Benefits


All periods of paid leave under this policy will be construed as family and medical leave under the FMLA.

Paid leave authorized under this policy does not impact or reduce a faculty member’s employer-paid benefits, such as retirement or health insurance.

If it is anticipated that an illness or disability will require an extended absence from faculty duties for a period longer than one semester, the Office of Human Resources can provide information on the Disability Income Plan of North Carolina (DIPNC) and other applicable voluntary supplemental disability programs.

The North Carolina Family Illness Act allows for an extension of up to 52 weeks of leave without pay during a 5-year period in cases of serious illness of a child, spouse, or parent. (This provision allows for the faculty member to make payments to continue benefit eligibility during the leave extension.)

B. Miscellaneous Provisions

Leave under this policy shall not be accumulated or carried over to another academic year, allowable as terminal leave payment when the faculty member leaves the University, or used to extend years of creditable state service for state retirement benefit purposes.

Employees with a balance of accrued leave from a previous 12-month appointment must exhaust that leave before receiving leave under this policy.

Human Resources is responsible for maintaining official University leave records and related medical documentation.

Communications concerning leave requested or granted under this policy are subject to the same confidentiality requirements as other personnel records.

Paid leave provided for under this policy has no negative impact on the faculty member’s other employment benefits; the faculty member’s health insurance coverage is maintained during the period of leave.


This policy will be reviewed and revised as necessary every 4 years.


WCU Faculty Serious Illness and Disability Leave Request Form

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