Paid leave perk added to federal jobs
Mothers and fathers working for the federal government will get 12 weeks of paid parental leave.
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.
President Donald Trump thanks participants after speaking at the White House Summit on Child Care and Paid Leave last week in Washington, D.C.