Gov. Eric Holcomb last month signed an executive order establishing paid parental leave for state employees, effective Jan. 1.
The State Personnel Department said providing employees opportunities for family time improves quality of family and community life, improves infant health and development and helps retain and attract workers.
A full-time worker employed by the state for six consecutive months may request and receive up to 150 hours of paid leave upon the birth of the employee or spouse’s child or the placement of a child for adoption with the employee. A qualifying part-time employee may receive up to 75 hours of paid leave.
Jeff Mullins, Indiana State Personnel Department digital communications manager, said about 350 births are covered through the state’s employee health plan each year.
“I think certainly employees are quite pleased with it,” he said, noting the benefit also is a recruitment tool. “It’s for the employer and the employee.”
Paid and unpaid leave
Mullins said Indiana is now the eighth state to offer paid parental leave for state employees. Of those seven other states, four — California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island — also extended the same right to private employees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Only Arkansas, Minnesota and Missouri offer parental leave only to state employees, as Indiana now does.
Signed in 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools, and companies with 50 or more employees.
Those employers must provide qualified employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for child birth or adoption, medical leave for a serious health condition or to care for an ailing immediate family member, according to the Department of Labor.
Faegre Baker Daniels partner Martha Lemert concentrates her Fort Wayne practice in traditional labor and employment litigation. She said besides being unpaid, another tricky element of FMLA results from the requirement to take time off in single chunks.
“There’s all kinds of scenarios in which you might not need a block of leave,” she said. “You might just need a day or two here or there intermittently,” especially, “during the first couple years of life where you just have to get kids to the doctor’s appointment, or you have to stay home with them because they’re sick and you can’t put them in daycare.”
Private employers in states such as Indiana are still left to construct their own paid parental leave policies for their employees, if they so choose.
Private employers step up
Andrew Gruber is the chair of the labor and employment practice group at Bingham Greenebaum Doll, LLP, where he works exclusively with company management on issues including setting up leave policies. He said clients he has worked have generally opted for a slightly more generous policy than the state.
“Leave policies usually range on the paid end anywhere between six and eight weeks,” he said. “A lot of employers also then decide even if they are not FMLA qualifying that if they offer six weeks of paid leave, they will offer an additional six weeks of unpaid leave to match the FMLA allowances for adoption or the birth of a child.”
Heather Wilson is a member of the Frost Brown Todd labor and employment practice group and member-in-charge of the Indianapolis office. She also said she had seen non-FMLA qualifying businesses take similar actions.
“It’s hard for employers to have employees off for 12 weeks,” she said. “But I’m starting to see even smaller employers have a limited time that they give to employees for the birth of a child or adoption even if they don’t have FMLA. And it’s an attempt to try to recruit good people to their organizations.”
Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP partner Tracy Betz is the co-chair of the firm’s gender advancement committee. The firm now boasts 16 weeks of paid leave to all parents, regardless of gender or caregiver status. She said except for some law firms in larger cities that offer 20 weeks of paid parental leave, the firm’s policy is among the most generous she’s seen.
“It’s funny because the older male partners could never imagine taking that time off, and the younger partners and the younger associates, they’re like, ‘I can’t imagine not taking it,’” she said.
Shift in perspective
Riley Bennett Egloff attorney Donald Smith represents employers and executives in labor and employment matters. He said changes of this sort would most likely appeal to younger potential employees.
“For an older person, if they’re bringing in a new CEO or something, chances are they’re going to be past those childbearing years, and it won’t even be a consideration for them,” he said. “It may be something we see more often in a tech company; somebody who’s really employing a lot of younger, child-bearing-age people as compared to stodgy old law firms like ours.”
Tami Earnhart is a partner in Ice Miller’s labor and employment group and health care group. On Jan. 4, the firm announced a new paid parental leave benefit extending its previous 12-week policy to 16 weeks. Earnhart said she saw these larger changes as being less about differences in age than perspective.
“I see it less as generational than cultural,” she said. “I think there’s been a cultural shift in our country to acknowledge that either parent may have a desire to stay home without the financial strain of not being paid, and that employers are acknowledging that cultural shift and helping their employees have that time with their new children.”
Megan Krol Schultz is an attorney and director of human resources at SonaCare Medical, LLC. She said her company having locations across the country caused it to adopt policies to be compliant across state lines. In October 2016, the company instituted an extended sick-leave policy.
“It covers births or adoption of a child, care of a dependent, really mirroring the criteria within FMLA leave, but it adds an additional two weeks of leave on top of the paid time off that they already have,” she said. “I think it’s a complete paradigm shift. I personally grew up in a one-income household. ... My father was the sole source of income and he worked incredible hours. … We had no other choice. Well, now this is giving employees choices, and it takes some of the stress off of them, which, when you alleviate some of that stress, you create more productive employees.”•