Thursday, August 21, 2008

Scone: Parental leave legislation freshens debate

The House’s recent approval of parental leave legislation has revived the debate on the issue with fresh vigor among lawmakers, employers, employees and family advocacy groups.

This time the tug of war focuses on the measures in the Paid Parental Leave Act, which would afford every federal employees entitled to FMLA four weeks of paid leave upon the birth or adoption of a child. As mentioned above, the bill has passed the House and a companion bill is before the Senate. However, the bill likely will hit a wall, as the president already has threatened to veto it.

Each time legislation like this makes a step forward, we are reminded that the United States is the largest industrialized country – among Liberia, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland – that lacks a national paid leave program. Every time I hear that statistic, I cringe.

For a country that places such high value on family, we don’t do so well in making sure new families have an adequate time to spend bonding and settling in together. And why? Because our country places an even higher value on money. And paying people to cuddle their newborns rather than doing their jobs runs counter to that value.

Further, in the current economic environment – where employees feel they are just one missed deadline away from the unemployment line – parents may be less inclined to take parental leave even when its available to them.

Both issues may lead employers to believe that paid parental leave is unnecessary. They would be wrong. I encourage benefit managers to lobby for parental leave at their individual organizations as well as on the national stage. What you may lose in employee productivity, I predict you’ll gain in employee satisfaction and loyalty.

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