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Guidelines for Graduate Assistant Paid Leave


Circumstances occasionally occur that prevent graduate assistants (GAs, including graduate teaching assistants, TAs, and graduate research assistants, RAs) from performing the duties of their appointment. Consistent with Penn State's continuous effort to support the personal and professional development of all members of our community, these guidelines seek to reduce the professional and personal stresses that can develop when graduate assistants encounter extenuating circumstances that warrant a temporary absence from their assistantship duties, while continuing their stipend and benefits. The purpose of this document is to outline how instances of personal and/or family illness, injury, childbirth or adoption for graduate assistants should be addressed by the unit funding the assistantship. These guidelines are intended to ensure that the student’s stipend and benefits be maintained to the extent possible during an approved absence. In the cases of foreseeable events, the student should inform his/her assistantship supervisor as soon as the circumstances and dates of needed leave are known. For unforeseeable events, notification should be made as soon as possible once the need arises. These guidelines pertain only to issues related to the individual as a graduate assistant. Issues pertaining to the individual’s status as a student and academic progress are addressed in Graduate Education Policies.

Short-Term Absences

Short-term absences, typically less than one week duration, may be requested for a variety of reasons, including, but not limited to, recovery from a minor illness, illness of an immediate family member requiring care by the graduate assistant, or bereavement for the death of an immediate family member1. In these instances, the graduate assistant should make the request to his/her assistantship supervisor as promptly as possible, so that coverage of duties during the requested short-term absence can be addressed, if necessary. Reasonable requests for short-term absences should typically be approved with the stipend and health benefits maintained without requiring make-up time. All graduate assistants, regardless of appointment type or funding source, are eligible to request a short-term, paid leave. Approval for a short-term leave should be granted by the assistantship supervisor.

1For the purpose of these guidelines, immediate family member is taken to be spouse or partner, parent, or child.  A parent is the biological or adoptive parent of the graduate assistant or an individual who stood in loco parentis to the graduate assistant when the graduate assistant was a child.  Child shall include a biological, adopted, or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward, or a child for which the graduate assistant is standing in loco parentis, who is under 18, or over 18 and incapable of self-care because of a mental or physical disability.

Extended Paid Leaves

For needed absences from his/her assistantship duties of longer than one week, a graduate assistant must request a formal, extended paid leave. To be eligible for an extended paid leave, a graduate assistant must:

  • Be currently appointed on a quarter, half, or three quarter time assistantship.
  • Be currently enrolled at the appropriate level. Credit load requirements are defined in GSAD Credit Loads and Academic Status for Graduate Assistants.
  • Be in good academic standing as required by their program and the Graduate School. In cases where the assistantship is held outside the student’s academic program, a written release must be provided by the student to allow this information to be released by the program.


Procedures for requesting an extended paid leave are implemented at the college or campus level, but in general, the request for leave must be made to the head of the unit providing the assistantship, in consultation with the assistantship supervisor, the student’s academic program, and the student’s Associate Dean for Graduate Education. In most cases, graduate assistants who have been funded on restricted funds will receive their regular stipend from the respective grant or contract supporting the assistantship, during the period of extended leave, provided it is allowable by the sponsor. If the sponsor has terms and conditions that do not permit funding pursuant to this guideline, the unit in which the assistantship is held should fund the leave period from other sources whenever possible. Graduate assistants whose appointments are funded with General Funds by departments or other administrative units of the University should continue to receive their stipend from unit resources. If the appointing unit supports the request for extended paid leave but lacks the financial resources to fund the leave, as well as a replacement, the unit should first seek the additional funds from the College or larger administrative unit in which the graduate assistant is appointed. In the unlikely event such funds are not available, the appointing unit should consult with the College of the graduate assistant’s academic program to identify a source of funding.

Graduate assistants who meet the requirements and are approved for an extended paid leave will be excused from their regular activities for a designated period of time and unless mutually agreed upon, graduate assistants will not be required to perform any duties for the duration of their absence. During this time, graduate assistants will continue to receive the same stipend and benefits as provided by their appointment immediately prior to their leave. Health care benefits, including health insurance, as previously applied to graduate assistants and their spouse/partner/dependents, will remain unchanged. In the event that the leave period includes an academic break included in the regular period of appointment, such as the winter break that occurs between fall and spring semesters for an academic year appointment, the leave period includes the academic break and cannot be extended by the length of the break.

A request for an extended paid leave may be denied for a number of reasons, including but not limited to inadequate documentation, repeated requests for short term paid absences or extended paid leaves, documented unsatisfactory performance, or incompatibility with funding source guidelines. In the event that the extended paid leave is denied and the assistantship is to be discontinued during an extended period of absence by the individual , he/she should be referred to the Student Insurance Office (320 Grange Building; (814 865-7467) for consultation regarding the implications of such discontinuation for his/her health insurance coverage, and of the mechanisms available for continuing coverage when the insurance provided by their stipend benefit is no longer in effect.


Illness/Injury (e.g. Personal illness or injury, Care of an immediate family member):

If a graduate assistant is unable to fulfill the duties of his/her assistantship appointment because of illness, injury, or needing to care for an immediate family member, so as to require an extended paid leave, the graduate assistant must submit a written request to his/her immediate supervisor, who will immediately forward it to the responsible individual within the appointing unit. The request must be made by the student as soon as it is known that an extended leave will be required, and should be accompanied by a written certification of illness from a health care provider and written permission by the graduate assistant for the Director of University Health Services to contact the certifying health care provider, if needed.

The decision to approve/deny the leave of absence is made by the appointing unit after appropriate consultation with the assistantship supervisor and the graduate assistant's academic program and Associate Dean for Graduate Education. The appointing unit will notify the graduate assistant, the graduate assistant’s academic program, Associate Dean for Graduate Education, and the Graduate School regarding the outcome of the request. If the leave is approved, the graduate assistant’s stipend should be maintained for up to six weeks or until the end of the appointment (whichever occurs first) in the case of personal illness or injury and up to three weeks or until the end of the appointment (whichever occurs first) to care for an immediate family member.

New Parent

Penn State will reasonably accommodate the needs of its graduate assistants when they become parents. "Parent" is defined as a man who fathers a child, a woman who gives birth to a child, any person who adopts a child, or the documented, same-sex partner of a birth parent. A graduate assistant who becomes a parent as defined above is eligible for paid leave under this guideline upon the birth of a biological child or when an adoptive child is placed within the individual’s custody and adoption proceedings are officially underway. Graduate assistants desiring a new parent paid leave must submit a written request to their immediate supervisor who will forward the request to the responsible individual within the appointing unit. The request should be made as soon as possible after the date of the anticipated birth or adoption is known. The decision to approve/deny the paid leave is made by the appointing unit after appropriate consultation with the assistantship supervisor and the graduate assistant's academic program and Associate Dean for Graduate Education. The appointing unit will notify the graduate assistant, the academic program, the student’s Associate Dean for Graduate Education and the Graduate School regarding the outcome of the request. If the leave is approved, the graduate assistant will be excused from his/her regular assistantship duties for a period of up to six weeks, or until the end of the appointment (whichever occurs first), immediately following the birth or adoption of a child. Note that this guideline does not address occasions for which medical care is required prior to the birth of a child, or situations that necessitate extended medical treatment because of complications that may arise during or following the birth of a child. Such occasions, which require extended paid leave due to illness or disability, are to be handled in the manner outlined in the section above on illness/injury.


If a request for an extended paid leave of any type is denied, the graduate assistant has the right to appeal such a decision by submitting a request for an appeal in writing to the Dean of the College or Campus Chancellor where the student is appointed, or his/her designee, or to the Vice President/designee for appointments to non-academic units, within 10 days of receiving the notification that the original request has been denied. At that time, the student should include any additional documentation available to support his/her request for the extended paid leave. The request will be reviewed by the Dean/designee, Chancellor/designee, or Vice President/designee, in consultation with the Graduate School, and a decision will be made within 10 days. The student will be notified in writing by the Dean, Chancellor, or Vice President’s Office of the final disposition of their request, as soon as a decision has been reached. There will be no further appeal once the Dean/designee, Chancellor/designee or Vice President/designee has rendered a decision, and that decision will stand.

Return from Leave:

A graduate assistant returning from leave during the appointment period shall resume the duties of the original appointment. If the original position is no longer available, the student shall be provided an equivalent appointment. If the student is unable to return until after the original appointment ends, there is no guarantee of the availability of funding upon the individual’s return, however, he/she should be considered for future appointments in a manner consistent with all other graduate students from the student’s academic program. Taking leave should in no way prejudice future appointments.

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