By Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT
One of Missoula’s largest employers this week adopted a new leave policy for parents, offering moms and dads paid time off from work after the birth or adoption of a child.
Missoula County commissioners, who adopted the policy on a 3-0 vote, believe it will position the county as a family-friendly employer and help it retain skilled employees in an increasingly competitive job market.
The change will be added to the county’s benefits package and will take effect on July 1.
“There are only two countries in the world that don’t provide paid leave to new parents – us and Popua, New Guinea,” said Commissioner Stacy Rye. “Families shouldn’t have to choose between economic hardship and returning to work with a newborn.”
Under the new policy, employees will be able to take six weeks of paid time off after the birth or adoption of a new child. The policy applies to both women and men.
Rye said the county began looking at the issue after the Montana Association of County Commissioners meeting over the winter.
“Paid parental leave is good for moms, good for families and good for attracting and keeping high quality and skilled staff,” said Rye. “It’s also been shown to increase labor rates among women, so it’s good for our larger Missoula economy.”
Under the previous policy, Rye said, employees often used up their paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child. In some cases, that made it hard for an employee to cover future family needs, like caring for a sick child.
Employees who have worked for the county for at least 180 consecutive days are eligible under the new policy. If both the mother and father are employed with the county, Rye said, the policy allows them both to take paid leave at the same time.
Commissioners said paid parental leave has shown to have a positive impact on the health of the mother and child. They said it also encourages father-child involvement.
“Welcoming a new baby is a wonderful occasion for moms and dads,” said Rye. “This is exactly how local government can help lead the way and make a difference for working families.”
Missoula County employs roughly 800 workers in 30 separate departments. Rye said the policy’s leading costs would come from paying overtime in departments that must be staffed on a 24-hour basis, such as the detention center or emergency dispatch center.
She placed the policy’s cost at less than $10,000 a year.
“About 12 percent of workers nationally work for an employer that offers paid parental leave,” said Rye. “The Fortune 500 companies have moved in that direction, but we don’t have a lot of those in Montana. Companies are moving in that direction nationally and we have to be more competitive about staffing.”
Rye said the county may also explore paid family leave – a more that would allow employees to care for aging parents or loved ones in a crises.