In a recent trail blazing move, Boston’s Mayor Martin J. Walsh signed an ordinance establishing paid parental leave for city employees. This ordinance distinguishes Boston — known for some other revolution-inducing tactics — from the United States, most individual states, and nearly every other city nationwide. In fact, in the preamble to the new ordinance, the city council of Boston highlights the fact that the United States is one of only three countries that lacks a law requiring employers to fund parental pay. Only a handful of cities, Seattle among them, have such leave laws and only three states — New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island — currently offer paid family leave. Boston’s new ordinance aligns the city, however, with approximately 178 countries worldwide that offer some form of paid parental leave.
The new ordinance is noteworthy for more than just its relative rarity in the United States. Its scope is also unusually broad. Unlike other family leave policies — which often are applied differentially based on gender — the Boston ordinance provides both female and male city employees with six weeks of paid parental leave to be taken by day or week anytime during the first year after the birth or adoption of a child. In addition, the leave is available to employees regardless of the means by which they have become parents — either through natural birth, adoption, surrogacy, or stillbirth. Eligible employees receive 100 percent of their pay for two weeks of the leave, 75 percent for another two weeks, and 50 percent for the remaining two weeks.
If the White House’s position on the matter of paid parental leave is any indication, other cities and states may not be far behind Boston’s lead. In January, the White House affirmed its commitment to paid family leave (among other types of paid leave) and announced that it “would award $1 million for a grant program to help states, municipalities, and federally recognized tribes conduct feasibility studies for paid leave programs.” President Obama’s proposed 2016 budget also included more than $2 billion in new funds to encourage states to develop paid family and medical leave programs and $35 million in competitive grants to assist states that are still building the administrative infrastructure needed to implement paid leave programs.
Businesses looking to stay ahead of the curve on this issue would be well advised to familiarize themselves with the current state and city statutes and ordinances mandating paid family leave, and to explore the potential administrative costs and benefits of such policies in the event that laws are passed that require private businesses to provide this leave benefit. While many critics of statutorily required paid parental leave policies claim that the cost of their implementation is high and is sometimes passed through to employees in the form of decreased wages or other discretionary benefits — thereby hurting rather than helping workers — as the Boston city council noted, proponents of such requirements believe “paid leave and workplace flexibility increase productivity, help recruit more talented workers, lower worker turnover and replacement costs, reduce absenteeism, and improve job satisfaction.” As momentum for paid parental leave laws potentially builds, employers would be wise to stay informed on this issue.