Updated, Jan. 29, 5:35 p.m. | Even for Congress’ most ardent supporters of paid maternity and paternity leave, there is wide variance in their own office policies.
The ink is drying on the Jan. 15 presidential memorandum that allows executive branch employees six weeks of sick leave upon the birth or adoption of a child. But many federal workers — including congressional staff — await a legislative fix to make paid maternity and paternity leave guaranteed.
Here’s why: Sick leave is not an ideal substitute for parental leave. Sick leave is earned time, accrued over years of service. Facing a deficit, an employee can receive an “advance” of sick leave, which would be paid back over time.
It’s for this reason some members of Congress are looking to make those six weeks of maternity and paternity leave an entitled benefit. Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, D-N.Y., along with a handful of Democratic members of Congress, is reintroducing the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, which would provide six weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave for new parents working for the federal government. The upshot for congressional staff is that the legislation would amend the Congressional Accountability Act to provide the same benefits on Capitol Hill, including for staffers within the House and Senate, the Capitol Guide Service, Capitol Police, Congressional Budget Office, Office of the Architect of the Capitol, Office of the Attending Physician, Office of Compliance, the Office of Technology Assessment, Library of Congress and the Government Accountability Office.
“The President went as far as he could with the executive memorandum,” Maloney said in a statement provided to CQ Roll Call. She described the policy as “essential” to attracting the best talent to the federal workforce.
But Maloney is in mixed company on her own legislation, which she has introduced in every Congress since 2000. Maloney provides her own staffers with 12 weeks paid maternity or paternity leave. Other original co-sponsors participating in the bill’s introductory news conference Monday were House Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., who both provide 12 weeks paid maternity or paternity leave for their staffs. (Scott provides 12 weeks both for his personal office staff and Education and the Workforce Committee staff.)
Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., a freshman sworn in this month, has decided to offer his staff eight weeks paid parental leave. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., provides a hybrid for his staff: eight weeks paid maternity leave, six weeks paid paternity leave. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly, D-Va., provides six weeks paid parental leave, the only one of the group to provide the same benefit to staff as he is advocating through legislation.
D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s office had initially responded that she offered two weeks paid parental leave, later clarifying her office offers 12 weeks paid. The initial information was from an outdated office handbook. (Read more on Roll Call’s response to the information).
All the offices that spoke to CQ Roll Call for this story, except Van Hollen’s, offered the same paid leave benefit for men and women. This is a possible indication that both the offer of paid paternity leave and men using the benefit may be on the rise.
But introducing legislation — even legislation the president backs — is still many steps from enacted policy. The presidential memorandum is big news for executive branch employees, expecting parents or parents of newborns who are federal workers. Congressional staff, however, are subject to the whims of the offices they work in. (See the members of Congress in this story who agree on federal leave policies, but vary widely in how they approach their own staff.) Some congressional offices lack formal policies entirely and decide leave policies ad hoc — particularly paternity leave.
So what can congressional staff do?
Hill Navigator wants to hear from you. The New York Times’ Jennifer Senior recently asked 100 Senate offices about paid leave; only 26 responded. The 2010 data on House offices, which useful and oft-cited, is now five years old. Seventy-three new members were just sworn in, meaning 13 percent of Capitol Hill offices are now creating guidelines and policies for what paid parental leave means for their staff.
Offices that offered generous leave packages have been eager to discuss: They cite happier staff, low turnover and a better work-life balance.
“Frankly, it’s not a perk, it’s a quality of life,” said Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., who offers eight weeks paid maternity and paternity leave.
Hill Navigator, with the help of as many willing congressional staff as possible, is going to compile information about congressional maternity and paternity leave policies over the next several months. The generous offices may be the first to respond, but the ones still setting up their policies, such as Beyer’s, will have the greatest opportunity to set expectations about paid leave policies going forward.
Staffers with information to share on office leave policies can email, tweet or send anonymously. Former staffers, we’re happy to hear from you as well. Obama has chosen six weeks as the new norm for federal workers. Let’s see how Congress stacks up.
Editor’s Note, 5:35 p.m.
Norton’s staff initially provided CQ Roll Call with incorrect information on her leave policy due to an inaccurate office handbook. Read more on Roll Call’s response to the information.