A team of first year MPA students at the University of North Carolina are partnering with ELGL to conduct original research on North Carolina local governments and paid family leave. In this series of blog posts, we meet the research team and hear their perspectives on this project and topic.
Claire LePage Morgan
What is paid family leave? What are some formats/structures found in local government?
My name is Claire Morgan, and I am a first year student in the MPA program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I lived in Nairobi, Kenya until I was 18, and then completed my undergraduate work at Whitworth University in Spokane, WA.
I’m excited to be working on this project with ELGL. Paid leave is such an important benefit that organizations can give to their employees. As the Minister of Workplace Relations and Safety in New Zealand, Iain Lees-Galloway, said recently when introducing a bill to increase paid parental leave in NZ from 18 to 26 weeks:
“As well as the direct financial benefits to households and reducing stress on parents, extending paid parental leave has a range of positive impacts on child development and fostering parent-infant attachment.”
Paid leave can help families with the transition after the birth or adoption of a child, or during foster care. There are versions of paid family leave that can also help families care for an aging parent or sick relative during a time of crisis.
Paid leave can also be used to support employees dealing with chronic illness or mental health issues in their families. Studies have found that for seriously ill children, there are improved physical and mental health outcomes when parents can take paid family leave.
Additionally, paid family leave has been shown to lead to shorter hospital visits for elderly patients, and better mental health outcomes for their caregivers.
For our project, we have decided to think about paid leave as a benefit that is offered in addition to vacation days, sick days, and the unpaid 12 weeks mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
The United States is the only country in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) which does not mandate some level of paid leave around childbirth or adoption; on average across OECD countries, mothers receive just under 18 weeks of paid maternity leave according to the OECD Family Database.
In the United States, it is common for employers to suggest that maxing out vacation time is an acceptable substitute for protected paid leave. The paid leave shortage in the US does create an opportunity for local governments who want to stand out as employers. In the US job market, offering paid leave can help a local government attract and retain talented professionals.
There are many different structures available in setting up paid family leave. For instance, according to the National Partnership with Women and Families, Morrisville, N.C. offers six weeks of 100 percent pay, which runs concurrently with FMLA. The time can be split between caregivers if both caregivers work for the city.
The paid leave is available for the birth, adoption, foster or guardianship placement of a child. Durham County, N.C. offers 12 weeks of 100 percent pay, also for birth, adoption, or foster placements. Durham County’s leave does not run concurrently with FMLA.
Other cities offer percentages of pay; Clarkston, GA offers 67% of pay for 8 weeks. It is also possible to offer paid leave for caregiving: Seattle, WA offers 4 weeks of 100% pay for Family Care Leave, and 12 weeks of 100% pay for parental leave, to both caregivers. Seattle’s system requires employees to use up all but 1 week of vacation and two weeks of sick leave before using these full benefits.
We’re excited about learning more about the paid family leave offerings at local governments in North Carolina. I’m hopeful that more information about the strategies already in use can add to the conversation about how best to support families.