Paid Parental Leave


President's Perspective, Summer 2008: More than half of the corporations in the U.S. currently provide some form of paid parental leave benefit to their employees. Perhaps it is for that reason that people are often surprised to learn that federal employees receive no paid time off to care for their newborn infants or recently adopted children. Instead, they are only permitted to take unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) of 1993, and then use sick leave or annual leave, if available, to continue to be paid while they are out of the office. It is time to provide a paid parental leave benefit to federal employees.

This summer, the House approved H.R. 5781, a bipartisan measure that would provide federal employees with four weeks of paid parental leave as part of the twelve weeks of unpaid leave currently available under the FMLA. A companion bill offering the same benefit, S. 3140, has been introduced in the Senate.

NTEU has strongly supported this legislation, which it views as significantly improving the important law that it helped to bring to both public and private sector workers 15 years ago—the FMLA. In April, NTEU National President Colleen Kelley testified before Congress that paid parental leave would make a marked difference in the lives of federal employees, while simultaneously strengthening the government’s ability to recruit and retain needed workers.

Stories abound, in the SEC and other agencies, of the many problems caused by a lack of paid parental leave. Some employees are forced to exhaust all of their sick and annual leave to care for a terminally ill family member, and then have no leave left to care for their newborn child. Others need to use up all of their sick leave to care for a newborn, and then have no leave left to deal with their own illness.

Providing paid parental leave will give the government a recruitment incentive for attracting the younger employees that will need to be hired to replace retiring baby boomers in the coming years. Indeed, approximately 60% of federal employees will be eligible to retire in the coming decade. It is estimated that over a half a million federal employees will be leaving their jobs over the next five years alone. Federal agencies will feel increasing pressure from this pending retirement tsunami, and will need to find new ways to compete with the private sector in attracting and retaining talented individuals. Providing paid parental leave is an obvious step in the right direction.

by Chapter 293 President Greg Gilman