Staff May Get Parental Leave Benefit

Posted October 12, 2007 at 6:29pm

A bipartisan group of House Members joined together last week to write Congressional staffers into a piece of legislation that would grant eight weeks of paid parental leave for all federal employees.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Tom Davis (R-Va.) introduced the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act earlier this year. On Wednesday, they expanded the language to ensure that Congressional employees, such as their counterparts in other parts of the federal government, would receive eight weeks of paid leave under the bill.

Employees also could use annual or sick leave that they have saved up to offset the 12 weeks of unpaid leave provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“Federal employees provide a variety of services vital to the progress of this nation,” Hoyer said. “The work these men and women do is critically important and their compensation and treatment in the workplace needs to fairly reflect that.”

Although Congressional staffers and other federal employees have different benefit programs — and in Congress, each Member office has its own benefits — all federal workers must use annual and sick time to take parental leave. Federal employees also do not have many of the short-term disability benefits that private-sector workers receive.

The federal system thus forces employees to pick between caring for a new child and their paycheck, Maloney said. But the government itself suffers under the current system as well because benefit plans in the private sector are often so much better, Members said.

“They’re an incentive for skilled people to look elsewhere for work at the very time when our government needs them most,” Maloney said. “The federal government should be leading the way.”

The bill is similar to legislation introduced by Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) earlier this year that would give new mothers eight weeks of guaranteed paid leave after giving birth, as well as one week of paid leave for new fathers. That legislation has yet to advance out of committee.

But the House legislation, similar to a measure Maloney, Hoyer and Davis introduced last session, might fare better. Not only is the bill sponsored by the Majority Leader, it also was referred to the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where Davis is ranking member.

And as part of her role as vice chairwoman of the Joint Economic Committee, Maloney is spending much of this Congress on a series of hearings looking at family-friendly workplace policies.

Additional co-sponsors of the measure include a pair of California Democrats: Reps. George Miller, chairman of the Education and Labor Committee, and Lynn Woolsey, chairwoman of the Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections.

“Our country is stuck in a time warp when it comes to providing workers with help in balancing work and family,” Woolsey said. “That’s why it’s time for the federal government to set an example.”

It is important that Congress give its staffers more parental leave time because private firms are using pro-family initiatives to recruit workers, Davis said.

“They know parents don’t want to choose between losing a job or months of pay and spending irreplaceable time with a newborn,” Davis said. “Parental leave is the norm in most industrialized nations and most leading U.S. companies. Our government is in the midst of a human capital crisis.”