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6 months paid parental leave? One city embraces it

CBS News logo CBS News 3/15/2019 Megan Cerullo
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San Juan municipal workers who become parents will now get six months of paid leave.Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz says that's essential for new parents and a good business practice for the city.San Juan's move is a contrast to the rest of the U.S., the only industrialized country without a national paid family leave policy.

The rest of the U.S. — and some of its largest employers — could take a cue from San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. On Monday she announced that the city government is extending fully paid maternity leave for municipal workers from three months to six months to give working parents more time to nurture their newborns.

"It's the way to expand rights, not take them away from women and the family unit so that the family bonds," Cruz said at a press conference Monday. "It's essential that mothers and fathers share more time with their children at birth."

It makes good business sense, too, by helping the government attract talent and retain its workforce, Cruz told CBS MoneyWatch. "To have a positive environment at home, frankly, is good business because people will adhere more to their schedules and become more loyal to the organization," she said. The municipal government currently employs 6,000 San Juan residents — 853 of whom are women between the ages of 18 and 40, according to Cruz.

a person holding a baby: baby-and-parents.jpg © Getty Images/iStockphoto baby-and-parents.jpg

6 months of paid family leave may be new gold standard

Pediatricians recommend that mothers spend between six months and a year at home with their infant children, but few women in the U.S. are afforded that opportunity. One in four moms returns to work just 10 days after childbirth, according to Paid Leave for the United States (PLUS), an organization dedicated to winning high-quality paid family leave for everyone.

"There is good evidence that the absolute minimum that seems to make a difference is 12 weeks — three months — but if you're thinking about supporting breast feeding and bonding, then you want to do a minimum of six months and preferably up to a year," Dr. Benard Dreyer, professor of pediatrics at NYU School of Medicine and former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told CBS MoneyWatch. 

San Juan's Cruz introduced two new policies Monday — one that extends paid leave for new mothers from 12 weeks to 24 weeks — and another that increases paternity leave from five to 20 days for fathers who wish to spend more time at home with their newborns. 

"This benefit will encourage the father to play an active role in taking on family responsibilities," Cruz said.

The policies also apply to same-sex couples and domestic partnerships, and they cover families that choose to adopt. Women currently on maternity leave will be able to apply for an additional 12 weeks. "It works for many types and combinations of couples, including people who are living together but aren't married," Cruz told CBS MoneyWatch.

The move is timely, too -- it makes Puerto Ricans who acquired custody of relatives' children up to the age of 14 after Hurricane Maria eligible for paid time off from their jobs, Cruz said.

San Juan's policy cost? "Zero"

The fiscal effect of the new policy will be "zero," Cruz said. Other employees will pick up the absent workers' responsibilities while they're on leave. "This has always happened whenever someone has given birth or adopted a child. It's not something we don't deal with every single day," Cruz said. "Because we already have the salary of this woman or the salary of this municipal partner taken into account in the budget, it's not an additional expense."

Workers aren't required to take the extended leave, but it gives them the opportunity to spend more time with their newborns during a crucial period for their physical and emotional development.

U.S. lags other countries

Parental leave is a contentious topic in the U.S. —  the only industrialized country without a national paid family leave policy.

"Most other high-resource countries — like most of Europe and Canada — have nine to 12 months of paid maternity leave," Dr. Dreyer said. "We are the outlier. We have not been generous to families and children, and we have not recognized the importance of parents in their children's early life and how critical that is."

He acknowledged the practical challenges of a company guarding a new parent's job for an extended period. "Certainly having employees leave for a year and having their job guaranteed to come back to will cause some logistical issues for businesses. But that's OK. They can still thrive with that," he said.

Earlier this month, House Democrats introduced legislation that would guarantee federal employees 12 weeks of paid family leave. The so-called Federal Employee Paid Leave Act would allow men and women to take paid leave after giving birth or adopting, or to care for an ailing family member.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom earlier this year proposed six months of paid parental leave for all California residents — a significant upgrade from the state's current family leave policy providing up to six weeks of partially paid leave for a new child or sick family member. Critics argue the current policy leaves some of the poorest workers — and their families — behind.

Best and worst companies

Some American corporations appreciate the upside of giving employees more paid time off with their young children, and they implement generous policies to draw top talent to their workforces.

"We've noticed a trend over the course of the past three years of paid family leave policies in the private sector expanding and moving away from these extremely short four- to six-week parental leave policies and closer to 12 weeks and beyond," said Annie Sartor, director of workplace programs at PLUS.

Deloitte, one of the "Big Four" accounting firms, has been hailed as leader for its family leave policies. It offers its employees 16 weeks of paid parental leave, plus up to eight weeks of childbirth recovery — earning it a top ranking on PLUS's 2018 list of the employers with the best leave policies.

Additionally, Deloitte gives employees 16 weeks of family caregiving and 16 weeks of personal medical leave.

Other top-ranked companies include IBM, Bank of America and H&M. Publix Super Markets, on the other hand, is ranked worst, offering parents no paid parental leave whatsoever, according to PLUS.

Policies that give workers six to eight weeks of paid time off are common in the private sector, according to Sartor, leaving much room for improvement.

Said Sartor: "Leadership from decision-makers like the governor of California and the mayor of San Juan is pushing this conversation toward greater lengths of leave that reflect the needs of real families."

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