The Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, going into effect October 2020, will give over two million government employees up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave
While many companies offer their employees paid maternal or paternal leave after welcoming a child, they are not legally required to. In fact, the only law that allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks off to take care of a baby is the Family and Medical Leave Act. However, the unpaid leave isn’t even available to all workers — and many simply can’t afford to take three months off without pay anyway. Thankfully, a landmark bill was signed into law last week by President Trump, giving government workers up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave.
As part of the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, going into effect October 2020, around 2.3 million Americans — who previously had to use paid time off or unpaid leave — will be afforded paid parental leave for up to three months. This applies to federal employees who are considered “new parents” — regardless of gender — via birth, adoption, or fostering a child. In order to qualify, government workers have to establish a year of employment and also must return to work for a minimum of 12 weeks (or equal to the time they took off during their leave) after returning from leave.
The law was part of a wide-ranging legislative spending package, which included upping the minimum smoking age to 21 years old.
The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, which only applies to firms with over 50 employees and allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, is the last time the federal government addressed the need of parental leave. While many advocates believe this new law is monumental, they point out we still have a long way to go before we catch up to other countries. For example, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, pointed out during a congressional hearing that there is just ONE other country in the world who doesn’t have any kind of mandatory paid leave — Papua New Guinea.
“The U.S. is dead last in the world in terms of not providing any sort of paid leave,” Wendy Chun-Hoon, co-director of Family Values @ Work, a group that advocates for paid family leave, told CNBC News.
Added Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, “The victory lap is somewhat circumscribed because there’s still more work to do.”
There are so many reasons why paid parental leave needs to be the law — for everyone — not just government employees. In 2016, then-president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Dr. Benard Dryer, thoroughly explained why it is crucial for the entire family. In fact, he recommended that new parents be allotted up to 24 weeks to bond with their babies.
“In the first year or two of life, 700 new synapses are forming every second in the child’s brain,” he explained to NPR. “As a developmental and behavioral pediatrician I know firsthand that the first six to nine months of life is a critical bonding time for the parents and the child, and bonding is the basis of the parent responding to the child’s needs.”
Additionally, increasing family leave can have serious health benefits for both mom and baby. “There’s very strong evidence that family leave decreases maternal depression,” he said. “This is key, because maternal depression prevents mother-infant bonding and has negative effects on a child’s cognitive, social and emotional development.”
It could also encourage more mons to breastfeed — which can have serious benefits and save new parents a lot of money, he explained. “It strengthens the baby’s immune system. It also decreases the risk of many health problems such as acute diarrhea, respiratory illness, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome and obesity.”
But, because of our super behind-the-times policies, many parents can’t afford to take any time off.
“Without paid and job-protected family leave, most parents — especially low-income, working parents — will not take time off, ” Dr. Dreyer continued. “They just can’t afford it. But I don’t think we, as a society, can afford to not have them nurture their child during this critical period.”
Hopefully 2020 will welcome major changes in the realm of parental leave, and this is just the first step in the right direction.