The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t require any paid leave for new parents.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act protects workers from losing their jobs if they take time off to care for newborns or sick loved one. That’s the extent of what’s offered in Indiana and most states.
A bill Governor Eric Holcomb recently signed sets up a summer study committee to examine the possibility of paid family and medical leave at the state level.
But, in the meantime, a growing number of employers are offering paid time off in those situations.
With No Requirements For Paid Leave, Companies Draft Their Own Policies.
Jill Phillips needs all of the energy she can get.
“We have a 10-year-old, a 7-year-old, a 5-year-old and a newborn,” Phillips says.
It isn’t easy – her kids interrupt our interview at a McCordsville park a few times.
“Don’t do that,” Phillips tells one of her sons as he places a football in front of the camera.
Phillips has a great sense of humor, which is helpful. She’s finishing up her final week of time off with her newborn while trying to juggle the needs of her other three children at the same time.
When she had her first three children, Phillips was able to take 12 weeks off after giving birth. She switched jobs before having her fourth child. And, as a staff member now at Indiana University in Indianapolis, she doesn’t qualify for the paid parental leave policy. It’s currently only offered to faculty.
“So, I ended up taking off three weeks of vacation, a combination of vacation/sick time over a three-week period,” Phillips says. “So I didn’t work at all those three weeks. And, then the fourth week, I started working from home part-time at 24 hours. And, then I took the rest of it, 16 hours, unpaid leave.”
“The fourth week I started working form home part-time at 24 hours. And, then I took the rest of it, 16 hours, unpaid leave.”
Phillips says it was a hard adjustment financially. She’s going back to work full-time Monday, when her son is just over two months old.
IU recently announced it’s expanding its fully paid parental leave program to include staff members like Phillips. The new policy goes into effect July 1and gives both parents up to six weeks off for the birth or adoption of a child. Staff and faculty can take up to two paid family leaves during their careers at IU.
“I just think it’s wonderful that they’re going to offer that,” Phillips says. “Because it’s hard to just juggle all of it.”
Purdue University offers up to six weeks of paid parental leave for those who’ve worked for the university for at least one year in a benefits-eligible position.
Indiana State University allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA to care for a newborn or adopted child, with the option of using paid vacation time to cover some of the leave.
But fewer than 50 percent of workers in the U.S. even qualify for FMLA – that means many people’s jobs and benefits aren’t protected if they take the time off.
Indiana Lawmakers Pushing For Voluntary Paid Leave Program
State Senator Karen Tallina, (D-Portage), and two other lawmakers are urging their colleagues to consider taking action at the state level. The National Partnership for Women and Families gave Indiana a near-failing grade last year on its annual assessment of paid family leave policies.
“I know that we’re offering basically nothing,” Tallian says.
Governor Eric Holcomb signed a bill Tallian co-authored this session that assigns a summer study committee the task of exploring the possibility of setting up a voluntary paid family leave program in Indiana.
“So this would be a voluntary program that an employer would offer to his employees,” Tallian says. “They could both contribute to a kind of short term disability package. And, then when someone needed FMLA, they could apply and get that if they’re taking care of a brand new baby or taking care of a dying parent.”
“I know that we’re offering basically nothing.”
Erin Macey is a policy analyst with the Indiana Institute of Working Families. She says other states have explored the option of voluntary paid family leave programs.
“With a voluntary or mandatory insurance program, employees or employers could pitch in a small amount of money into a statewide insurance pool and that money would be used to pay employees when they need to take leave,” Macey says.
Opponents of paid family leave policies argue they can be hard on small businesses, which Macey says makes voluntary programs attractive solutions.
But she argues offering paid time off to support families can benefit companies long-term.
“We know, especially younger generations, are really looking at these benefits in order to make decisions about employment,” Macey says.
Phillips admits she took for granted that most companies offered paid time off for parents.
“A friend of mine gave birth last year and she went back to work full time after I think three weeks,” she says.
She’s grateful she’s been able to spend eight weeks at home with her newborn, even if some of that time was spent working.