More State and Local Governments Now Offer Paid Family Leave
By Felicia Onuma
Today, the United States is the only developed nation that does not guarantee workers paid maternity leave. It also trails most other countries in offering paid paternity, family, medical, and sick leave. Because each parent works in most families with children, the lack of a nationwide paid family leave law makes it difficult to balance jobs and parenting. In the absence of federal action, some state and local governments have taken the lead by offering paid family or parental leave to their public employees.
Without paid family leave, many Americans are forced to cobble together unused sick, personal, or vacation days to care for a new child. In most cases, this makeshift leave is far less than they need. For other workers, the situation even is worse. Nearly half of all workers in the lowest 25 percent of wage earners have no paid time off (personal, sick, family, or vacation leave). Certain employees who meet tenure requirements at companies with 50 or more workers are able to access unpaid, job-protected leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This leave can be used to recover from child birth, bond with a new child, care for a sick family member, or address personal health problems. But 40 percent of workers are not covered by FMLA, and many who are can’t afford to take unpaid leave.
State and city governments employ over 19 million people. Contrary to political rhetoric, many state and city employees receive less compensation (including pay and benefits) than their private-sector counterparts. For these workers, access to paid leave is critical to family economic security. Fortunately, a growing number of states and cities are stepping up to provide this important benefit.
Allegheny County, PA and Seattle, WA are the most recent jurisdictions to institute paid leave policies for public employees. According to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, implementing this policy “is the right thing to do for our employees, for their children, and for our county.” He noted: “We benefit as a community when employees succeed at work and at home.” In an op-ed, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and City Councilmember Jean Godden declared: “It is time for our country to recognize the importance of this issue and respond with appropriate policies that support our workers and their families.” Murray and Godden further explain how paid leave benefits workplace gender equity, child development, and business.
Allegheny County will provide six weeks of paid parental leave for full-time employees who have worked for the county for at least a year, while Seattle will offer its employees four weeks of paid parental leave.
Heidi Goldberg, program director for early childhood and family economic success at the National League of Cities Institute for Youth, Education, and Families, observes that “cities such as Seattle that are establishing paid parental leave for city employees are modeling strong policies that are good for both business and for communities. Ensuring that parents can care for their children without losing their jobs does a great deal to equalize the playing field for low-income families while boosting a city’s overall economic health through increased job stability.”
Other cities and counties offering paid family leave to government workers include San Francisco, CA; Pittsburgh, PA; St. Paul, MN; Brooklyn Park, MN; St. Petersburg, FL; Chicago, IL; Austin, TX and King County, WA. Six states have also enacted paid family leave policies: California, Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Virginia.
Resources on state and local government employee paid leave policies and other paid leave policy developments are available here:
- Expecting Better: A State-by-State Analysis of Laws that Help New Parents, from the National Partnership for Women & Families.
- Family Friendly Workplace Laws Taking Effect in Early 2015, from National Partnership for Women & Families.
- FAQ on the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, federal paid family and medical leave legislation, from CLASP
- Videos on the benefits of paid leave for employers, from CLASP
- Better Workplaces, Better Businesses, a website on employer support for paid leave.