City of Austin will offer paid parental leave

The Austin City Council unanimously agreed Thursday to offer 30 days of paid leave to city employees to care for a newborn or newly adopted child.

Austin will be the first city in Texas to offer such a benefit.

The council asked city staffers to write up three possible policies and present them to the council for another vote at a later date.

One is the policy proposed by Council Member Bill Spelman, which would require employees to use up their paid vacation and sick time before tapping into paid parental leave.

That policy is estimated to cost $321,000 annually and would only apply to non-public-safety employees, including mothers, fathers and same-sex partners.

Another possible policy would allow employees to use paid parental leave first before having to pull from vacation or sick time to get paid during maternity or paternity leave. A third possible policy would include public safety employees as well as non-public-safety employees. No cost estimates have been done for the latter two ideas.

The council wants to have a policy in place by Oct. 1, the start of the city’s fiscal year. The measure is seen as a way to better recruit and retain employees.

Austin city employees can currently take off up to 12 weeks for maternity or paternity leave, as allowed under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. That time is unpaid, unless employees draw from their paid vacation time or paid sick time. Mothers can also use short-term disability benefits to take two to four weeks of leave at 70 percent of their pay.

Several companies, including Bank of America, IBM and Texas Instruments, and a handful of states and cities — New Jersey, California, Chicago, and San Francisco — offer some form of paid parental leave, according to research by Spelman’s policy aides.

Under the item the council passed Thursday, the city will create a “leave bank” of unused sick and vacation time that employees citywide can voluntarily contribute to. Employees will be able to request to use that time to take paid leave for reasons other than having a baby, such as caring for an ill family member. It hasn’t been decided if the time in the bank will carry over from year to year.

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