Paid Leave, Childbirth and Federal Employee Benefits

Some federal employees may get more paid leave when having a new child as a bill to provide more leave is sent to the House for a vote by a committee.

Getting a bill through Congress is a long, tedious process.

We receive a number of queries from readers wanting to know why Congress has not yet acted on one bill or another pertaining to benefits from federal employees. In most cases, while an issue may be of prime importance to some individuals or even some employee advocacy groups, the issue is not very high on a list of priorities in Congress.

But some bills do get through the process.

One bill that is moving forward is not as popular with some federal employees as some in Congress may think it is.

The Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act of 2009 is on the move. It has cleared a big hurdle as the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has approved the bill and sent it to the full House for a vote.

In a survey of our readers last year, 57% said they were opposed to the bill. That is surprising since it would give some federal employees another month of leave. The bill now being considered states that its purpose is “To provide that 4 of the 12 weeks of parental leave made available to a Federal employee shall be paid leave….”

Even better for those federal employees who would benefit, the paid parental leave “shall not be considered to be annual or vacation leave….” The bill also provides that the leave does not accumulate for future use.

The bill would also give the director of the Office of Personnel Management the option of increasing the amount of paid leave. OPM “may promulgate regulations to increase the amount of paid parental leave available to an employee…to a total of not more than 8 administrative workweeks….”

If You Are Getting More Leave…I Want More Too

Comments (or grousing if you prefer) against the bill run the gamut. Some argue this bill would force them to use their tax money to help pay for federal employees having more kids when they are not allowed to marry a gay partner and obtain federal employee benefits. Before new parents get leave, they argue that gay federal employees should be given the same benefits as other federal employees receive.

Some readers contend there are already too many people and the government should not be spending money to encourage them to have more kids. Others say they don’t get leave for caring for elderly parents so why should a young person get more leave to have kids while they have to take leave to take care of parents.

Another reader (presumably not a young woman expecting to have a child in the near future) wrote: “What I see in this country is that twenty somethings want to live like 40 and older somethings as soon as they leave Mommy and Daddy’s house. What they don’t consider is all the sacrifices Mommy and Daddy made before they became aware that it is hard work to make a living and raise a family”

An Air Force quality assurance manager wrote that this is: “Just another way to discriminate against the childless worker.”

A human resources specialist said that “Having children is a choice. With all the leave that government employees get, usually a LOT more than the private sector, an extra 4 weeks of paid leave is out of line and an extra expense for taxpayers. They should use the leave they are given. It is also unfair to those who choose not to have children, or are past childbearing years.”

And, of course, a number of readers wrote comments such as this woman form the USDA: “As a mom, I think it is a terrific idea. It is very difficult leaving your small child in daycare.”

And, since this is America and our society seems unable to see any issue as one that becomes an issue of racial/sexual/gay or other form of discrimination, some readers see the entire issue through their own unique prism.

Money Issue

Not surprisingly, a new benefit such as this will cost money. Darrell Issa (R-CA) argues against the bill and spending the $850 million or so it would cost over the first five years of its implementation. In a press release, he wrote that: “While our committee contemplates enhancing federal benefits packages, the rest of working America is living in fear – worrying about not just losing their benefits, but their jobs completely,” wrote Issa.  “Taxpayers are reaching the breaking point when it comes to subsidizing higher federal spending at their expense.  Responsible American families are cutting costs and dealing with job loss and the destruction of their savings and retirement accounts.  It is simply not the right time to ask taxpayers to pay for a new benefit for federal employees.”

Fairness Issue

On the other hand, the sponsor of the bill, Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) does not seem bothered by the cost and focuses instead on fairness. She writes that: “Federal workers are forced to cobble together accrued vacation or sick leave if they want a paycheck during the 12 weeks of unpaid leave to which they are entitled under current law.  This approach may work for the lucky worker who never gets sick or needs to take time off, but in reality it puts an undue strain on working families in the federal workforce.”

No vote has been scheduled on this in the House. Chances are it will pass in the House but will encounter more resistance in the Senate. If (or when) the bill passes in the House, we will pass along the information to our readers for any assistance it may offer in planning your future.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47