- In addition to paid parental leave, Ardis Watkins of the State Employees Association of NC, calls for raises and lower healthcare costs.
When SB 20, the Care for Women, Children, and Families Act, went into effect July 1st, aside from imposing new abortion restrictions, it instated paid parental leave for all state employees, including those who work in schools. The bill was passed by the Republican-led North Carolina General Assembly, vetoed by Governor Cooper, and overridden by lawmakers in May.
Before SB 20, school employees could have 12 weeks of leave for the birth of their child under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but this leave was either unpaid or compensated using saved personal or sick leave days.
Paid parental leave was only available to the small cohort of state employees covered under a 2019 executive order that gave paid leave only to a select category of state employees, notably not including public school employees.
Under the order, to qualify for paid leave one must be an employee who had been continuously employed by the state for the immediate twelve preceding months. Employees who gave birth were thus eligible for either eight weeks of paid parental leave or just four weeks for any other qualifying event (including “the adoption, foster care placement, or other legal placement of a Child with an Eligible State Employee”).
SB 20’s new policy
The new leave policy in SB 20 allows a leave policy similar to the executive order, but includes public school employees. Under the policy, if an employee give birth to a child, they are entitled to eight weeks of paid leave, while a non-birthing new parent, or foster parent, can have a maximum of four weeks.
Part-time employees are also eligible but can only receive a prorated leave based on their regular hours. Meanwhile, employees who generally receive overtime will be compensated based on their regular pay, not including overtime.
Employees will still be able to take off up to 12 weeks under FMLA, unpaid or through other accumulated sick leave or personal leave.
The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is still working on creating specific implementation guidance for schools to deal with the higher number of teachers taking paid leave. SB 20 already appropriated $10 million to DPI to pay for substitute teachers.
The current up-to-date paid parental leave policy can be found on the North Carolina Office of State Human Resources website.
Response from State Employees Association
Ardis Watkins, Executive Director of the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC), stated that although this will especially help improve the lives of public healthcare workers, she would still like to see more done on other family-related issues to make North Carolina attractive to younger workers, like raising their wages and set reasonable reimbursement rates for hospitals, to enable state employees to afford healthcare.
“This parental leave is the kind of benefit we would expect not in a social policy bill but in an overall budget bill package along with a 5% raise each year and a significant bonus to retain state employees who are leaving in droves,” said Watkins. “A focus on family is imperative to keeping younger workers, and the single most important aspect of that is lowering the dependent coverage cost of the State Health Plan. Treasurer Folwell tried to get this done by setting a reasonable reimbursement rate for hospitals rather than the current secret pricing policy. Politicians on both sides of the political aisle fought the Treasurer on that so there are still many state employees working one week a month just to pay for their kids’ healthcare. You can’t keep workers by fighting to preserve secrecy at the expense of families.”