By Danae King
The Lima News, Ohio.
When Kristina Healy had her children, she wasn’t thinking about how she would pay her bills but instead the transition she and her family were going through.
She was able to relax and experience a new time in their lives, instead of worrying about not getting paid.
That’s because her employers helped pay for her time off, so she could go through the transition almost seamlessly.
Healy, who now works at The Ohio State University’s Lima campus, got six weeks of paid leave for two of her three children. She had the other while in graduate school.
She might be an exception, though, getting paid time off for childbirth or adoption.
A national policy mandates that employees get 12 unpaid weeks during each 12 month period for family or medical leave if they’re eligible, including the birth or adoption of a child.
Some companies and local governments are trying to do more for employees and pay them for some of the parental leave they may need. The reasons vary, including retaining and attracting talent, encouraging loyalty and attempting to increase productivity when an employee is at work.
A LIFE TRANSITION
Healy wasn’t surprised that OSU offered her paid time off when she had a child.
“I guess in my mind, everywhere I’ve worked has provided leave to me,” said Healy, who worked at a physician’s office when she had her second child.
Little did she know, she’s been luckier than many.
About 39 percent of workers report that they were able to take some type of paid leave for the birth of a child, according to a survey included in a June 2014 study by the executive office of the President of the United States called “The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave.”
“There is widespread need for more leave, both paid and unpaid,” according to the study. “For every five workers who used leave in a typical week, one additional worker reported that he or she ‘needed to take leave but could not do so’ in 2011. High wage workers reported ‘too much work’ as the principal reason, while low wage workers were more likely to report that they ‘could not afford loss of income.'”
Healy realizes the benefits paid leave had for her and her family.
“(Paid leave) is extremely important because when you’re having a child … it’s a big transition for a woman to go through and everything’s going on internally, emotionally. If on top of that, I had to worry about providing for my family, that would provide additional stress,” said Healy, assistant director of academic advising at OSU-Lima.
OSU-Lima offers employees paid and unpaid leave after they have a baby or adopt a child, according to a statement from Alison Mincey, associate vice president in OSU’s office of human resources.
OSU allows for more than the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Under the federal act, employees can’t be fired during the 12 weeks, which can be taken for child birth, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
The university pays 100 percent of an employee’s pay for up to six weeks for mothers and three weeks for fathers.
“The Ohio State University is committed to providing a work environment that is healthy, supportive and considerate of employees’ work and personal life,” Mincey said. “The university’s work/life effort includes programs, policies and services to enhance employee productivity and engagement and to help employees feel satisfied with their work environment during life events.”
CHANGING THE CULTURE
Recently, some companies and governments have been changing their policies.
The City of Dayton wants to set an example for other governments and for corporations. On Aug. 26, Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley announced it would pay its 1,900 employees 70 percent of their pay for four weeks of parental leave, and the policy isn’t gender specific, so men can use it too.
“I began to have a recognition that we weren’t being very good to families,” Whaley said.
Last year, one of Whaley’s colleagues had a baby, and Whaley noticed her experience with leave didn’t seem very “family friendly,” Whaley said.
Then, she was sent a white paper from Innovation Ohio, a think tank based in Columbus, called “The Benefits of Paid Parental Leave for Women, Families, Employers and Local Communities.”
She wanted to look into a policy because it’s necessary “if Ohio is going to be serious about attraction and retention of young people.”
Before, the city had no parental leave policy. New parents could only take vacation or sick leave and would have to use FMLA, then “hope nothing else happens that year” that would fit into FMLA, Whaley said.
Inspired by the white paper, Whaley and the city’s human resources director, Ken Couch, figured out the financials and a new policy.
They used the Ohio Revised Code as a guide of sorts, Couch said, and the City of Dayton’s policy “closely parallels” the one in the revised code.
For the first two weeks of leave, the employee is not paid but can use vacation or sick leave. For the next four weeks after that, they get 70 percent of their pay, Couch said.
When it was first looked into, Couch thought the new policy would cost the city $200,000 a year. Then he realized there would be no increase in the city’s budget for the policy.
That’s because he projected that about 3 percent, or 60 of its 1,900 employees, would use the policy a year. They’d be paid 70 percent of their pay for four weeks, meaning there’d be no increase in the city’s budget for the policy, Couch said, though lost time does have to be accounted for.
“We wanted to give our employees something added,” Couch said. “(We thought) for this very nominal cost it would be important,” Couch said.
Lima Mayor David Berger said the city’s policy is decided through negotiations with its bargaining units, though he believes employees can use vacation time, sick leave and FMLA.
As for a policy like Dayton’s, Berger said he’s “not in a position to predict” whether Lima could have one.
“We’re still in a circumstance where we’re trying to manage with limited resources,” Berger said. “Any of the pay and benefits would be part of what we’re arguing as part of the bargaining process.”
Though it’s obvious that employees would benefit from a paid parental leave policy, Couch and Whaley say cities and companies do also.
“We’re trying to attract and retain the best and brightest,” Couch said. “The younger generation worries about work-life balance. … What we’re trying to do is drag ourselves into this century.”
It may help attract and retain talent and also improve productivity when employees come back to work after leave, Couch said.
Eric Davis, coordinator of strategic workforce development at Allen Economic Development Group, said he thinks it’s a “great tool” for companies to use, though he doesn’t know of many locally that offer paid parental leave.
“(Companies) are starting to identify that as a need,” Davis said. “It’s something we’re going to hopefully see more of.”
Procter & Gamble offers a week of paid parental leave for employees who have a child or adopt one, according to an email from Scott McKenzie, Lima site human resources leader at the company. He said it’s part of the company’s benefits package to “attract and retain top talent.”
Dana, with a location in Lima, uses FMLA, but Jeff Cole, senior director of corporate communications for the company, said it will continue to “monitor developments of this nature with particular attention to our industry,” referring to paid time off.
Putnam County uses FMLA and allows employees to use their sick and vacation time in concurrence with that, said county commissioner John Love.
As for whether a policy like Dayton’s could help the county attract and retain talent, Love said “every elected official runs their office the way they wish to. In general, county benefits and wages also provide for retirement.”
VALUE OF INVESTMENT
In Auglaize County, there’s not a specific policy for maternity or paternity leave. Instead, it’s all in the family or medical section, said Erica Preston, the county administrator.
Before Preston came to work for the county, she worked at a law firm in Columbus and got paid leave when she had a child.
“I thought it was a huge asset for me as an employee and a mom,” Preston said. “I think it would increase productivity when parents came back.”
Preston thinks it does make a difference in attracting and keeping young talent.
“It could absolutely be a draw,” she said.
As for the county instituting a paid leave policy for its approximately 500 employees, she said “as long as it makes sense … it’s a possibility,” but that it’s not “on top of the radar” for the county.
Couch said he would encourage “everybody to at least look at” a policy like Dayton’s.
“We’re looking at value of investment,” he said. “We think happier employees are more productive employees.”
Dayton is following “great companies” who have already done a paid parental leave policy, Whaley said.
“There’s a lot of discussion in Ohio about how we attract and retain talent. This is the key to it,” she said.