Parental leave policy updated

After Palo Alto city employees campaigned for an improved parental leave system, the Palo Alto City Council approved a new policy on Dec. 10 that gives employees of all genders at least six weeks of parental leave at full paid salary.

The new policy also applies to employees who are adopting children or becoming foster parents.

English teacher Kari Snell, who has taken two maternity leaves, said this policy is step in the right direction.

“I think any improvement to paternal leave is fantastic,” Snell said. “But I still think six weeks is just such a short amount of time.”

Previously, employees received job security and continuation of benefits for 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, but did not get paid leave unless they used their vacation or sick days. However, many employees did not have enough vacation days saved up, and would either have to take a shorter leave than they would have liked or take time off without pay.

“(It is hard) to look at a six-week-old baby and think that being away from their parent would be a good choice, and I still have a hard time with that with my own children,” Snell said. “(It makes one think) how do some people go back to work, but in some situations you have to, but this is definitely a step forward.”

According to a report by the City of Palo Alto’s Human Resources Department, the new policy “is better than the benefit currently provided by other local government employers and is progressive in that it is gender-neutral and not impacted by the employee’s marital status or sexual orientation.”

“I love to see that it could be for any parent whether it’s adoption or birth.”

Kari Snell

Many see this part of the policy as very positive and forward-thinking.

“I love to see that it could be for any parent, whether it’s adoption or birth,” Snell said. “I love how it applies to anyone.”

Many members of the Palo Alto community supported the new parental leave policy. According to the report, employees believe that the lack of a paid leave policy is “negatively impacting recruitment, retention and employee morale.”

Some employees even brought their children into meetings with City Manager James Keene to make a statement and show why parental leave needed to be improved. Among them was Lacy Lutes, an accountant representative in the Utilities Department.

Lutes spoke to the Council and shared her story of how she saved up and accumulated leave days, but had to use them all when she attended training for joining the Air National Guard.

“When I got back, my husband and I decided to start our family, and I had absolutely nothing,” Lutes said, according to a Jan. 3 Palo Alto Online article.However, while this new policy benefits employees, it translates to more costs for the city.

Palo Alto officials predict it will cost between $100,000 to $200,000 per year.

This money would be used to backfill jobs, or replace employees in the profession, related to public safety, such as police, firefighters, utility workers and more, according to the Palo Alto Online article. Other jobs would not be backfilled, as their roles do not involve the safety of the public, but this could lead to less productivity due to less workers, the report stated.

Snell, though, said the positives of the policy outweigh the negatives.

Snell said, “I definitely think this is necessary from a parent’s perspective for sure. In the end, I do think it would outweigh the cost, but it would be interesting to see what that really is.”

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