The Apex Town Council declined to vote Tuesday on a proposal that would give six to eight weeks of paid leave to town employees who are new parents.
Council members decided to dedicate a work session to the matter, with the majority of them saying they needed answers to a variety of questions before a final decision is made.
Mayor pro tem Nicole Dozier first proposed the policy in November. It was presented Tuesday with the endorsement of the town’s human resources staff.
Dozier and Town Manager Drew Havens said the proposed policy is nearly identical to one unanimously adopted by Cary’s council about a month ago: Six weeks of paid time off for new parents, including adoptive or foster parents. Cary is the first Wake County municipality to adopt a paid parental leave policy, though Wake County government has one in place.
Apex’s proposal would extend that time to eight weeks in the case of birth complications or birth by caesarean section.
But council member Gene Schulze questioned whether the benefit is necessary or appropriate for a town government to provide. Others, such as Councilwoman Denise Wilkie, appeared to favor paid parental leave in concept but wanted more specifics about the policy’s potential cost to the taxpayers and town employees responsible for taking on an absent parent’s work.
Dozier was the only council member to call for the policy’s immediate adoption Tuesday. Representatives from the North Carolina chapter of the national nonprofit MomsRising also spoke in favor of adoption.
The council majority’s desire to subject the policy to additional scrutiny is also in line with how Cary’s policy was adopted. Cary’s human resources staff spent about six months preparing data and briefings that ultimately convinced skeptical council members that a paid leave policy would be a good business decision for the town.
Both Dozier and Eleanor Green, Apex’s director of human resources, made that argument as well. Within the past six months, Wake and Durham counties have begun offering paid parental leave to their employees. As the benefit becomes the norm among local governments and private companies, Green and Dozier said, Apex could find itself at a competitive disadvantage in the hiring market.
But Schulze and Councilman Wesley Moyer said they weren’t convinced that paid leave is necessary in addition to the vacation and sick leave employees are already afforded.
“I don’t think we’re at a competitive disadvantage,” Moyer said. “I think we have some of the best staff around, and I don’t know if giving this rich of a benefit right away is the correct step. Maybe we take baby steps to get this in place.”
Just like Cary’s policy, a parent’s gender would not affect the amount of paid leave he or she would be eligible to receive.
Councilman Bill Jensen said he would like to consider giving more paid leave to women than to men. He also questioned the policy’s inclusion of new parents of adopted or foster children.
Green said paid leave allows parents time to bond with their children and provides financial stability to families during a time when expenses often sharply increase. New parents often have taken the equivalent of six weeks off without a paid leave policy, Green said, combining sick leave, vacation days and unpaid time off after a child’s birth.
“One struggle that parents have is they use all their leave during childbirth,” Green said. “Meaning they struggle to be out of work when the child is sick.”
In response to council members’ questions about the program’s cost, Green said they would be difficult to quantify. The number of employees who use the program, for instance, would vary from year to year. And because a full salary is budgeted for each employee every year, there are few direct costs associated with paid parental leave.
Most of the program’s cost impact would be indirect, Green said, in the form of an increased workload for a new parent’s coworkers and a potential decline in the department’s productivity.
“Even though the cost is negligible, it’s still a cost,” Schulze said. “We go into budget season every year with so many needs, and every little bit makes a difference. Up until now, I haven’t seen people calling out for this. I’ve talked to employees with other towns who would kill to be an employee with the Town of Apex. To me, it’s not a problem we have right now.”
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan