Father of twins convinces Missoula County to adjust paid parental leave policies

Missoula County Commissioner Cola Rowley praised the adjustment and said she’d like to see the county make other offerings to new parents. (Missoula Current file photo)

A request from a father whose twins spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after their birth convinced Missoula County to change its paid parental leave policies, allowing employees more flexibility after the birth or adoption of a child.

Commissioners unanimously adopted the policy on Wednesday, giving employees the choice of beginning their six continuous weeks of paid time off any time within the first 12 weeks following the birth or adoption of children.

“We had a situation where an employee had twins, and both were in the NICU and the father wanted to postpone having to take the six continuous weeks off until later,” said Karen Harrison, the county’s director of human resources. “We just added some more flexibility to change the timing of it.”

Before Wednesday’s policy change, county employees were entitled to six weeks of paid parental leave, but it had to be taken immediately following the birth of a child.

In the father’s case, his twins were still in NICU, not at home.

“Because it’s difficult to bond in that situation, this allows them at any point after they’re out of that NICU to commence with the six weeks of continuous paid leave,” Harrison said. “I think that offers more flexibility for families. It’s a fairly easy policy to change, and it’s heavily used.”

Under the policy, if a parent’s children are placed in NICU, the employee will be permitted to begin the six weeks of paid time off once the children are released from care, even if that release takes place more than 12 weeks after the child’s birth.

“It has definitely helped the family,” the father told commissioners on Wednesday after thanking them for changing the county’s policy.

Harrison said 66 county employees took paid parental leave from July 2016 to January 2019. The policy is widely used, she said, and Wednesday’s changes further enhance the county’s benefits package.

The changes don’t bring any added costs to the county, Harrison added.

“It’s above and beyond what you have to do by law, which is nice,” she said. “It gets used a lot. Some would use the full six weeks, and some might use part of that, depending on how they feel.”

Commissioner Cola Rowley said she’d like to see other tweaks to the county’s paid parental leave policy.

“I know it’s not administratively feasible, but I would continue to advocate for women to take part-time leave for 12 weeks as opposed to full-time leave for six weeks,” she said. “It would be nice to have more flexibility with the leave for people who want to come back to work.”