Durham adopts the policy, Wake considers adding six to eight weeks of paid leave for county employees.

By Thomas Goldsmith

Parents who work for Wake County government would be eligible for six weeks of paid parental leave under a policy presented Monday to the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

Following Durham County’s move earlier this month to offer employees 12 weeks of leave and Greensboro’s vote in August to offer six weeks, Wake becomes the third local government in North Carolina to move toward paying parents who take leave following the birth of a child.

Wake County Board of Commissioners members Betty Lou Ward, left, Jessica Holmes, in background, and Sig Hutchinson consider a proposed new county policy on paid parental leave. Holmes was the driving force behind the action. Photo credit: Thomas Goldsmith

Research published in 2011 found reduced infant mortality in families with paid maternal leave, and research by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research has found better breastfeeding rates in mothers on leave, higher vaccination rates in families where leave is an option and fewer illnesses in the babies of moms on paid leave.

The trend toward paid leave for new mothers and fathers is a national one, given President Barack Obama’s direction to federal agencies in February to allow workers six weeks of paid leave to look after a new child or ailing family member.

Wake County benefits manager Ashley Lategan rolled out the idea for Wake commissioners during a work session, with a vote likely to take place Nov. 7. Members had questions about the details, which included a provision that gives parents eight weeks of paid leave when a child is born with complications or via Caesarean procedure.

“I think this is great,” said board member Sig Hutchinson. “I do like the six weeks, with eight for the Caesarian. Should we be progressive and forward thinking and just go with eight weeks?”

That question was not resolved in the work session. Members learned that the policy would also cover employees who adopt children, welcome a foster child, or take on guardianship for someone.

Said outgoing board member Caroline Sullivan: “We’ve got to have it.”

Johnna Rogers, deputy Wake County manager, said the program, designed to start Jan. 1 if approved, would not create a shortfall in the budget, because the affected workers’ salaries are already included in planning. Lategan said the program was a good choice because it serves as a means for recruiting, promotes employee retention, and adds to current benefits.

According to the county’s projections, Wake would pay about $275,000 to workers on paid parental leave per year.

“It’s really no additional budgetary impact, because we had to cover when people were out,” Rogers said.

The work usually done by workers on paid parental leave could be absorbed by other workers or carried out by workers on overtime, officials said.

Another study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research report also said that the policy has real benefits to municipal employers as well as employees. The think tank report was sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau.

“Research shows that paid leave increases the likelihood that workers will return to work after childbirth, improves employee morale, has no or positive effects on workplace productivity, reduces costs to employers through improved employee retention, and improves family incomes,” the 2014 report said.

Durham County commissioners acknowledged the policy at an Oct. 4 work session. It was described as a “policy to provide for approved time off with pay for the birth of an employee’s own child or the placement of a child with the employee in connection with adoption, foster care or in loco parentis.”

“I think the paid parental leave is a very important step for our county to take,” Durham County Commissioner Ellen W. Reckow said. “It will in fact make us family-friendly.”

Reckhow cited studies that have shown that paid parental leave leads to better productivity and more loyalty to an organization.

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Paid parental leave: What is it?
A presentation to Wake County Commissioners on Monday defined paid parental leave as:
“The period of time in which an employee may receive paid leave for parental care of a newborn, a child placed for adoption, foster care, or guardianship within one year of the qualifying life event.
“Such leave would be in addition to any annual leave, sick leave or other leave provided by Wake County.”
More information:
National Partnership for Women and Families[/box]


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Thomas Goldsmith

Thomas Goldsmith worked in daily newspapers for 33 years before joining North Carolina Health News. Goldsmith is a native Tar Heel who attended the UNC-Chapel Hill, and worked at newspapers in Tennessee...