Sun Sentinel: Palm Beach County to study offering paid parental leave

Palm Beach County could be the next local government to offer paid parental leave to employees, a benefit that is the norm in most countries but uncommon in the United States.

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay asked the county's staff to look into offering four to six weeks of paid time off to employees who deliver, adopt or foster a child, providing equal benefits to mothers and fathers.

"It's an attractive benefit," she said following Tuesday's County Commission meeting. "I think it's something that should have been done a long time ago."

Federal law requires employers to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected, unpaid leave to care for a new child, but the United States is the only industrialized nation that does not mandate paid time off.

Only about 12 percent of workers in the private sector had access to paid family leave in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

McKinlay said she thinks it's not fair to force parents to use sick time or vacation to care for a newborn, and offering paid leave could be a good recruiting tool for the county.

She also requested the county investigate adding parking spots for expecting employees and lactation rooms for nursing mothers in county buildings.

Some other local governments in South Florida, including Miami-Dade County, West Palm Beach and Wellington, have moved to provide paid parental leave.

In Miami-Dade County, employees can take up to six weeks of paid parental leave, receiving 100 percent of their pay the first two weeks, 75 percent the following two weeks and 50 percent the remaining two weeks.

The issue has found its way into the presidential campaign. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton support paid parental leave. Trump's plan would apply to women after childbirth, while Clinton's proposal would apply to men and women.

Palm Beach County has not yet studied how much it would cost to offer paid parental leave to employees, said Wayne Condry, director of human resources.

Such a change would apply to nearly 5,700 employees under the direction of the County Commission, and independent constitutional officers, such as the sheriff, would not be obligated to adopt such a policy, he said.

by Skyler Swisher

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