Cary News

Cary first Wake County municipality to offer paid parental leave

Town employees who are new parents will get six weeks of paid time off within a year of the child’s birth, according to a new policy approved Jan. 5 by the Town Council.

The policy applies to parents of any gender as well as employees who become adoptive or foster parents.

Cary, which employs more than 1,200 people, joins Durham and Wake counties in offering the benefit, which was often discussed during the recent presidential campaign. Cary is the only Wake County municipality to offer the policy, which came after months of review from town staff.

Cary’s six-week period is seen as standard, although Town Manager Sean Stegall said it was chosen as a conservative starting point. Durham County offers 12 weeks.

Stegall described a research process that convinced him that offering parental leave would be a “net organizational positive” by helping the town attract and keep good employees.

“Evidence demonstrates this leads to better retention rates for those who might not come back to work after having a child,” Stegall said. “Replacement is very costly.”

Of the town’s 1,237 workers, about 53 percent are between the ages of 20 and 44 – what is typically considered “childbearing age.”

Stegall said it’s difficult to predict how many town workers might take advantage of the program or what it would cost the town each year, but he anticipated “utilization would be in the single-digits.”

Costs to the town could include hiring temporary replacements or paying overtime to other employees. The indirect costs of delayed assignments should also be considered, Stegall said.

Wake County, which employs about 3,800 people, said it expects to incur a cost of about $275,000 per year as a result of its policy.

Cary joins a growing number of governmental agencies hoping to provide the benefit to their employees. Apex, Chapel Hill and Chatham County are also considering paid parental leave policies.

Apex’s council is expected to take up the issue before the end of the month, said Town Manager Drew Havens. He said the policy being considered is “very similar” to those passed by Cary and Wake County.

Stegall credited Cary Councilwoman Lori Bush with bringing the proposal to him during his first week on the job, which he began last summer.

“People look at the Town of Cary ... to lead and to show the way forward,” Bush said. “We raise the bar for all employers – not just for the public sector, but for the private sector as well. Offering this to all new parents of any kind is a step to changing attitudes toward all kinds of leave.”

Some council members said they initially had been skeptical but were eventually won over by town staff’s emphasis on the bottom line. In October, Councilman Don Frantz questioned whether taxpayers should subsidize parents’ “personal choice” to have children, but last week, he was among those praising the thoroughness with which the policy had been vetted.

“I also want to applaud the business case that was put together,” Councilman Jack Smith added. “I think that was important. And I want to really applaud you on not reminding us that Finland does everything better than the U.S.”

Nathaniel Greene, a Cary resident and father of two, spoke at Thursday’s meeting in support of the measure.

“Being present for those first few months (after a child’s birth) is vital for the health of all family members,” said Greene, who is a pediatric anesthesiologist. “I’ve had things go as planned in my family, but I’ve treated kids and families for whom things have not gone as planned. The last thing they should be thinking about is whether they’ll have the money to pay the bills at home.”

Councilwoman Jennifer Robinson said she is pleased with reports that the program would improve Cary’s business outlook but encouraged her colleagues to consider other aspects of its value.

“On top of the other great reasons offered, it’s wonderful just for the sake of compassion,” Robinson said.

Gargan: 919-460-2604; @hgargan