Wake County

Wake employees to get paid parental leave

Wake County will soon start paying employees who take off work to care for a child.

Wake’s Board of Commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to adopt a new policy allowing county employees to still get paid for up to six weeks while on leave taking care of a new child.

The policy applies to all of Wake’s full- and part-time female and male employees who welcome a newborn, legally adopt or start fostering a child – and are eligible for leave through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Until Monday, most employees could only apply for unpaid leave through the federal law.

“A new child does not come with an owners’ manual,” Commissioner Sig Hutchinson said.

The new policy is expected to cost up to $275,000 a year, according to county staff estimates. Wake has 3,820 employees. About 62 percent are women, and 49 percent of those women are of child-bearing age, county staff reports.

Wake’s move, led by commissioner Jessica Holmes, is the latest in a trend among North Carolina municipalities to offer paid parental leave. Durham County last month started offering its employees 12 weeks of paid parental leave. The cities of Durham and Greensboro offer six weeks of paid parental leave, and Cary is exploring the same idea.

While some in Cary have taken issue with using public dollars to fund an employee’s “personal choice,” Wake commissioners praised the idea.

“It’s really a no-brainer,” Commissioner John Burns said, adding that it’s not just for mothers. “Fatherhood bonding is ... crucially important and is something that our male employees are currently not taking advantage of.”

The move comes a year after the board voted unanimously to adopt a new living wage ordinance that increased base pay for full-time employees to $13.50 an hour from $11.08. Holmes, for her part, indicated Monday that more changes that favor workers are to come.

“This is just the beginning of our work toward worker’s rights and towards women’s equality,” Holmes said.

Paul A. Specht: 919-829-4870, @AndySpecht