Effective November 1, 2015, Multnomah County employees will be eligible to take up to six weeks of fully paid parental leave when they welcome a new baby or child into their families. The county’s policy will make it possible for all employees to afford this important time in their family’s life.
Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, who mentioned the need for this policy in her State of the County Address in June, describes the policy’s benefits:
Paid family leave helps to level the playing field so every new parent has the opportunity to stay home with their baby. It also improves the health of children and helps businesses retain and recruit employees. I’m proud that Multnomah County is adopting a paid family leave policy and I hope that other employers and ultimately our state will do the same.
Commissioner Jules Bailey, who is currently on parental leave with his first child, is a strong supporter of this policy (he wrote this opinion piece in June):
This is an exciting day for Multnomah County employees who, like employees everywhere, often struggle to meet the competing demands of work and family. Research shows the first 1,000 days of a child’s life are the most critical. As an organization with a primary focus of promoting community and family health, this is a natural step for us. But it shouldn’t be the end of this conversation, because every new parent needs paid parental leave, not just county employees. I hope what follows is a statewide policy that makes it possible for all Oregon families to start out right with paid parental leave.
While our workforce and family configurations have changed dramatically, our nation’s labor standards have not been updated in decades. The United States is unique in its refusal to guarantee paid family leave; it is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t mandate paid maternity leave. Nationwide, only about 10 percent of all workers have access to paid family leave that includes time off for caregiving. And recent research shows that a shocking 25% of new mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth, which falls far short of the time needed to recover from birth, establish breastfeeding, and bond with a new child.
There are sensible policies that would assist families while simultaneously helping employers’ bottom lines, but both employers and policymakers have been slow to recognize how fundamentally our lives have changed and what needs to be done to make our workplace policies match the way that we live and work today.
Both the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) require unpaid leave for some, but not nearly all, new parents. The result is an inequitable start for families across Oregon, with lower-wage parents struggling the most when a new child enters the family because they cannot afford to miss many, if any, paychecks.
Family Forward Oregon Executive Director Andrea Paluso sees this new policy as a real positive for county employees and a reminder that every Oregonian needs paid family leave:
Family Forward Oregon applauds the Multnomah County Commissioners for providing six weeks of fully paid parental leave to their employees. The truth is, without paid parental leave too few new parents can afford to be away from work during this incredibly important time in their family’s lives. Ultimately, we need a statewide paid family and medical leave program that makes it possible for every Oregonian to afford the time it takes to fulfill our family caregiving responsibilities. How we choose to support family caregiving in our public and workplace policies is one of the biggest opportunities we face as a state. This is a great start!
Parental Leave Background:
Oregon has long been a leader on family and medical leave. In 1987 we were one of the first states to enact parental leave. In 1989, pregnancy disability leave was added to parental leave and in 1991 Oregon enacted the Family Medical Leave Act. Oregon’s leave laws were considered as a model for FMLA, which was enacted in 1993. After FMLA was passed, Oregon repealed all of our previous leave laws to enact OFLA in 1995.
Press Release _ Multnomah County Adopts Paid Parental Leave Policy In a number of areas, Oregon made a conscious decision to provide more protections than were found in the federal law, like including protections for sick child leave and covering more employers than FMLA (OFLA applies to employers of 25 or more employees whereas FMLA applies to employers of 50 or more).