Paid leave perk added to fed­eral jobs

Mothers and fa­thers work­ing for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will get 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Hope Yen and Alexan­dra Ol­son

WASHINGTON — The fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s 2.1 mil­lion em­ploy­ees will get paid parental leave for the first time, a gal­va­niz­ing mo­ment in the grow­ing move­ment to bring the ben­e­fit to all U.S. work­ers.

The ben­e­fit, which gives 12 weeks of paid leave to mothers and fa­thers of new­borns, newly adopted chil­dren or foster chil­dren, is part of a de­fense bill ex­pected to re­ceive fi­nal con­gres­sional ap­proval Tues­day. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has said he will sign it into law.

The new pol­icy aligns the fed­eral gov­ern­ment with many of the coun­try’s most pow­er­ful com­pa­nies, which have been lead­ing the charge in ag­gres­sively ex­pand­ing parental leave ben­e­fits. It also could set a high stan­dard for other em­ploy­ers, both be­cause of the length of time of­fered and be­cause the pol­icy would ap­ply to all new par­ents, not just birth mothers.

“It’s a game-changer,” said Dan Sprock, direc­tor of peo­ple and cul­ture at Fairy­god­boss, a women’s ca­reer web­site in New York City that ad­vo­cates for equal­ity in the work­place.

“It’s the largest em­ployer in the coun­try, and it will def­i­nitely have an im­pact on other em­ploy­ers who are al­ready shift­ing, and it will push em­ploy­ers who have been more re­luc­tant,” he said.

The U.S. re­mains the only in­dus­tri­al­ized coun­try that does not fed­er­ally man­date paid parental leave. The vast ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­can work­ers do not get paid time off to care for a new child, and that will not change with the fed­eral pol­icy.

Even so, it’s the first ma­jor ben­e­fit ex­pan­sion for fed­eral work­ers since the 1993 Fam­ily and Med­i­cal Leave Act, which pro­vides 12 weeks of un­paid leave.

Fed­eral em­ploy­ees will be el­i­gi­ble for the ben­e­fit be­gin­ning in Oc­to­ber 2020 if they have worked for the gov­ern­ment at least a year. The em­ploy­ees are re­quired to re­turn to work for at least 12 weeks af­ter they take the leave, though the gov­ern­ment can waive that re­quire­ment for med­i­cal rea­sons.

“I’m so ex­cited,” said Mered­ith Irby, 32, a so­cial worker for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment in Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas. “The ben­e­fit will def­i­nitely make a huge dif­fer­ence. I al­ready told my hus­band, ‘OK, so we can have a kid in Oc­to­ber!’ ”

Af­ter un­ex­pected com­pli­ca­tions dur­ing her preg­nancy two years ago, Irby had to bor­row six weeks of ad­vance leave so she could spend time with her new­born son. That leave was fi­nally paid back in June.

“My fam­ily plan­ning and the de­ci­sion to have an­other child had been re­volv­ing around the fact that I would have to save up leave for at least an­other year be­fore I had enough,” she said, adding that the new fed­eral pol­icy “means a lot.”

One in four women go back to work within two weeks of giv­ing birth be­cause they can’t af­ford to lose the pay or the job, ac­cord­ing to the White House.

The ben­e­fit falls short of pro­vid­ing paid time off to care for sick adult rel­a­tives or for their own se­ri­ous med­i­cal is­sue, the big­gest rea­son work­ers take un­paid leave un­der FMLA. The pro­jected cost to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment is about $3.3 bil­lion over five years, cov­ered by the ex­ist­ing agency bud­gets.

“We are op­ti­mistic that this mo­men­tum will re­sult in a strong, in­clu­sive, paid fam­ily and med­i­cal leave pol­icy that cov­ers all work­ing peo­ple,” said De­bra Ness, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Part­ner­ship for Women & Fam­i­lies.

Everett Kel­ley, the na­tional sec­re­tary-trea­surer for Amer­i­can Fed­er­a­tion of Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees, called the ben­e­fit a “large step in the right di­rec­tion for full fam­ily leave.”

Parental leave was a pri­or­ity for high-rank­ing Democrats, in­clud­ing Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

Ivanka Trump, the pres­i­dent’s daugh­ter and ad­viser, also high­lighted the is­sue and sup­ports a fed­eral pol­icy on paid leave.

Last week, the White House hosted a sum­mit to dis­cuss the path for­ward for paid leave and af­ford­able child care.

Demo­cratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, the new chair­woman of the House Over­sight and Re­form Com­mit­tee, had urged the ben­e­fit for years, in­clud­ing a bill this year that would have also of­fered leave for work­ers need­ing to care for an ill fam­ily mem­ber.

Ul­ti­mately, con­gres­sional Democrats se­cured agree­ment with Repub­li­cans for a pared-down ben­e­fit with­out cov­er­age for sick spouses and par­ents, part of a broader deal reached with back­ing by the White House af­ter Trump’s pro­posed Space Force was in­cluded in the de­fense bill.

Sev­eral states al­ready have paid fam­ily leave poli­cies, in­clud­ing New York, Cal­i­for­nia, New Jersey and Rhode Is­land.

BREN­DAN SMI­ALOWSKI/GETTY-AFP

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump thanks par­tic­i­pants af­ter speak­ing at the White House Sum­mit on Child Care and Paid Leave last week in Washington, D.C.

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