According to experts, the United States stands nearly alone among developed countries in not guaranteeing paid time off to new parents, but that is slowly changing — and it looks like Wellington will be one of the municipalities leading the way.
This week, the Wellington Village Council became the first government in Palm Beach County to strongly consider a specific paid parental leave policy for village employees, allowing parents, both mothers and fathers, paid time off after a child is born. A limited amount of money for the policy, which has yet to be finalized, was included in the village budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. While the fine print needs to be worked out, we believe that this initiative, while small in scope, is a step in the right direction.
As things stand, only 13 percent of Americans have access to paid parental leave through their employer, but that percentage is poised to edge higher in the years ahead, with several states and a number of large companies adding the benefit. The concept is an expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, a United States federal law requiring employers to provide employees job-protected and unpaid leave for qualified medical and family reasons. Qualified reasons include (but are not limited to) personal or family illness, family military leave, pregnancy, adoption or the foster care placement of a child. The federal statute does not, however, mandate that such leave be paid leave. Wellington, in fact, does have a paid leave policy available to all employees. This new, limited initiative, would give a specific benefit to new parents.
This new policy, once finalized, would allow village employees the financial ability to take time off to be with newborns, which has long-term, proven benefits for both the parent and the child. It will also be a great recruiting tool to bring in new village employees. Meanwhile, it would not be an overtly expensive part of village finances, accounting for just $30,000 of Wellington’s $89 million 2016-17 budget.
The proposed policy is not without its detractors. Two Wellington council members spoke out against the proposal at Tuesday’s meeting, while a third likes the idea but is reserving judgment until the specifics of the policy are finalized. Ironically, the concerns are essentially the same ones raised years ago against the fore-running federal legislation — that it sets up an unfair playing field among employees, offering a specific benefit to some employees, but not others. Could it lead to subtle discrimination against younger people in the hiring process to avoid bringing in new employees who are more likely to qualify for parental leave? Considering the limited scope of the benefit, probably not. In fact, it is likely to make Wellington’s benefits package more appealing to younger professionals at far lesser costs than other potential perks.
The positives of such a policy outweigh the negatives. A paid family leave policy has already proven to be a positive in communities and states where similar legislation has passed, and we commend Wellington leaders for taking a proactive approach to improve the existing situation.