Cary News

Morrisville council debates paid parental leave policy

While the Morrisville Town Council agreed to explore a paid parental leave policy, members revealed Tuesday their concerns about the effect the policy might have on town employees.

Morrisville’s proposed policy, first brought forward by Councilwoman Vicki Sroggins-Johnson last month, would offer to continue paying an employee’s salary for six weeks, with the option to stay out longer without pay still guaranteed by federal law.

The town is the latest Triangle municipality to consider implementing a policy.

Councilwoman Liz Johnson said she supports paid parental leave but wanted to hear from town staff about what offering the benefit would mean for them. She said Morrisville’s 170 full-time staff is far smaller than Cary’s 1,200 employees, where a similar policy was implemented recently.

“We are a small organization, and in a larger corporation, all of these options could be handled and absorbed with a lesser effect on the organization and its employees,” Johnson said. “But this will effect others, because we are so small.”

Many area paid parental leave policies – proposed and adopted – have been modeled with a federal law known as the Family Medical Leave Act in mind. Under FMLA, parents are guaranteed the right to return to their job after a maximum 12-week leave of absence to attend to the birth of a child or the assumption of new parental duties.

“I have thoughts on both sides of the issue,” Town Manager Martha Paige said. “As other areas in our recruiting field add this as a potential benefit, it could put us at a recruiting disadvantage. That’s not something you can prove, but our benefits are where we’re losing some of our recruits, in particular our dependent healthcare coverage.”

Paid parental leave policies appear to be gathering steam among area governments as they compete to hire and retain employees. Since Durham County announced late last year that it would offer paid time off for new parents, Wake County, Cary and Rolesville have followed suit.

In Cary, town employees who are new parents can get six weeks off within a year of the child’s birth. The policy applies to parents of any gender as well as employees who become adoptive or foster parents. Apex and Chatham County are considering paid parental leave as well, though Apex’s council decided last month to table the matter for the time being.

“The unknown is if more people would take advantage of it or for a longer time,” Paige said. “For shorter-term absences, we sort of make do. We fill in, we try to be flexible. We want people to spend time with their family. In public safety is where we have a concern. We can’t go six or eight weeks without multiple firefighters or police offers. We have to work them overtime, and other people don’t get to take leave or vacation they’re entitled to take.”

Mayor Mark Stohlman suggested that the town consider a trial period where fewer than six weeks of paid time off is offered, with the option to expand the benefit if it proves popular and departments are able to accommodate the absences.

Morrisville’s human resources staff will return in coming weeks with a formal policy for the council’s consideration.

Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan

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