Medical Leave


Medical leave is absence to care for a personal serious health condition, as confirmed by the employee's Healthcare provider.


Staff who have at least a year of service at Northwestern University AND who have worked at least 1,250 hours within the past continuous 12 months, are eligible for The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to coincide with their medical leave. FMLA provides certain employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave. 

Staff who are not eligible for FMLA should contact the Benefits Division to discuss their options. In some instances, they may be referred to our Office of Equal Opportunity and Access to request medical leave as an accommodation under the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA).  


Holding the job. For FMLA eligible employees, the job is held for up to 12 weeks in any 12 month period. In the case of intermittent leave or a reduced work schedule, the job is held for the time equivalent of 12 weeks of the employee's work schedule. If department operations permit, the employing department may hold the job beyond 12 weeks.

If the staff member has at least five years of continuous service with Northwestern University, their job is held for a s long as the employee continues to qualify for Extended Sick Time (EST) (up to six months). 

Staff members who need additional leave but have lost job protection by exhausting their FMLA and/or EST, should contact our Office of Equal Opportunity and Access to request additional leave as an accommodation under the American's with Disabilities Act. 

Pay. Benefits eligible staff who have at least six months of continuous service with Northwestern University are eligible for Extended Sick Time (EST) benefits. EST pays out at 100% of the employee's salary, after satisfying a 7 consecutive day wait period. Incidental Sick Time (IST), vacation, and personal floating holiday time can be used to cover the 7 day wait period. EST benefits do not apply to intermittent medical leaves. 

If a staff member is not eligible for EST, they must use their own Incidental Sick Time, vacation, and personal floating holiday time to receive pay during their leave. Once this time is exhuasted, the remainder of the leave would be unpaid. 

Benefits. An individual on a paid medical leave will continue to have benefits coverage. The University continues to pay the employer contribution during a medical leave. If enrolled in flexible spending accounts (FSA) these benefits are frozen until the individual returns from leave. The dependent care FSA can only be used when the employee is actively at work. Any health claims incurred while on leave can be submitted to the health care FSA for reimbursement once the employee returns to work. 

Unpaid leave. An individual on an unpaid leave will be billed for benefits coverage. Flexible Spending Accounts are temporarily terminated until the individual returns from leave. Commuter benefits cannot be accessed or changed when on an unpaid leave of absence. The deadline to make changes to commuter benefits is the 5th of the month prior. Please make any necessary changes prior to that deadline. For additional question on the commuter benefits, visit

How to Apply for Medical Leave

Application. The staff member must contact The Hartford 30 days prior to the leave to apply for FMLA and/or EST benefits or as soon as possible. Instructional faculty must contact The Hartford 60 days prior to the start of the leave as well as their Dean's office for academic planning. You can reach The Harford at 1-888-541-7283. Click here to view the step by step process of applying for a leave.

End of the leave

Return to work. At the expiration of an FMLA leave, staff members and instructional faculty members are expected to return to their job or an equivalent job for which they are qualified if able to return to work. 

Extension. If a leave of absence is needed beyond The Hartford approved period, staff members and instructional faculty members must request an extension from The Hartford prior to the expiration of the leave. If the staff member or instructional faculty member does not return from the leave of absence and does not request an extension, his/her employment may be subject to termination. 


If you are having a difficult time navigating the leave process, would like a better understanding of your leave benefits, or are trying to dedice if a leave of absence is right for you, please contact The Benefits Division at (847) 491-7513 or