Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Citing the need for competitive employment policies, members of the Missoula City Council on Wednesday voted in committee to rescind an old city policy around paid parental leave and replace it with something more equitable.

The old policy was adopted by City Council in 2016 and provided pregnancy-related medical leave to women. Current staff say it's unclear why it was presented to City Council for adoption when such policies are normally governed by the administrative process, which would have allowed it to be revised over time as necessary.

The new policy in contrast would be adopted under the administrative process and apply to both men and women. It was prompted by the efforts of council member Mike Nugent and sponsored by Angela Simonson, the city's human resources officer.

The measure passed the Public Safety, Health and Operations Committee on an 11-0 vote with one abstention. Council member Kristen Jordan didn't cast a vote.

“I'm proud to see the City of Missoula take this step. I believe it's overdue,” said Nugent. “Above all else, this is the right thing to do. An appropriate paid parental leave policy creates better staff culture, retention and all of the above. Every new child and parent deserves the opportunity to bond.”

Under the proposed new policy, paid parental leave will be offered at 100% of an employee's regular pay while part-time employees will receive a weekly benefit equal to their average weekly pay.

The policy must be used within six months following the birth or adoption of a child, cannot be doubled for twins, and cannot be broken up over time. Instead, it must be taken continuously.

“It's something I would have been appreciative to have when I had my children a long time ago,” said council member Jennifer Savage. “There was nothing in place at either my or my husband's place of employment, and I think it could have been a game changer for us. This is something the city can be very proud of.”

Those behind the policy contend that flexibility and family-friendly rules are essential to an evolving workforce. They also believe that such policies are critical to retain employees. It also looks toward equity, something the past policy failed to achieve, they said.

Nugent said he's heard from fathers pleased with the proposal and also from one same-sex couple. Neither member of the couple was the birth mother of their child, he said, and no policy was in place to address them as new parents.

“I've heard from several city staff members who had stories of ways this would have helped them,” Nugent said. “This is a tremendous step forward. We're taking the right steps toward doing the right thing and encouraging the right sort of culture in Missoula.”

Missoula County adopted its paid parental leave policy in 2016, and it was added to the county's benefits package that year. It provided paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child and applied to both men and women.

A request from a father whose twins spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after their birth pushed the county to change its policy in 2019. The county did so, giving employees the choice of beginning their six continuous weeks of paid time off within the first 12 weeks following the birth or adoption of a child.