Federal workers poised to get paid parental leave

Millions of federal workers are poised to get 12 weeks of paid parental leave due to a new bill expected to become law.

The House on Wednesday passed the bill as part of a broader $738 billion legislative package on defense spending. It is slated for a Senate vote next week and is expected to pass.

The policy would authorize leave for all 2.1 million civilian federal workers and apply to any birth, adoption or fostering after Oct. 1, 2020. To get the benefit, employees must work for the government for one calendar year and stay for at least 12 weeks after taking the leave.

It marks a milestone for paid parental leave, which has slowly been gaining momentum in the United States. Currently, the U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn’t have a federal paid parental leave program. But six states have leave laws, and employers have been making their own moves by rolling out policies giving employees paid time off following the birth or adoption of a new child.

The Washington Post recently announced that, beginning Jan. 1, all new parents employed at the newspaper will be eligible to receive 20 weeks of paid time off following the birth or adoption of a child. That’s up from the four weeks of paid time off the company previously gave parents who worked there for at least one year. The J.M. Smucker Company in October said it will give new parents 12 weeks of paid leave following the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child beginning Jan. 1, and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. announced a new six-week paid parental-leave program for both mothers and fathers.

Related: How 3 companies are helping employees on their parenting journey

Furthermore, Pilot Flying J, a travel-center operator with roughly 28,000 employees, now offers full- and part-time employees with six weeks of fully paid parental leave. And Goldman Sachs now offers 20 weeks of paid leave to all parents, regardless of gender or caregiver status.

Related: More companies roll out gender-neutral paid parental-leave policies

Overall, around 27% of employers offer paid parental-leave benefits, according to data from the Society for Human Resource Management. But not every company offers the same length of time off for both mothers and fathers. Fewer offer those policies to part-time workers.

Regardless of the slow movement toward paid parental leave, 83% of the U.S. workforce does not have that coverage, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“While paid leave for new parents is a critical benefit, more than three quarters of people taking unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act do so to care for their own serious medical issue or a loved one who is not a new child,” Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, said in a statement.

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.