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S.B. 20's paid parental leave statute goes into effect for state employees

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UNC economics professor Luca Flabbi poses for a portrait in his Gardner Hall office on Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2023.

Senate Bill 20’s paid parental leave statute, which was modified by the state legislature in June, went into effect earlier this month. The statute entitles state employees to up to eight weeks of paid leave following the birth of a child and up to four weeks after adopting or becoming a foster parent.

The employees receiving paid parental leave must also be employed by the state for at least a year before receiving the leave.

Helen Gross, the principal at Swansboro High School and thus an employee of the state, said she is excited to see paid parental leave as a new benefit for staff this school year. She said previously, staff members who had children were required to use their own leave.

“Sometimes, they would go on short-term disability, but primarily they were using their own leave and many times they would be in a leave without pay situation because they wouldn't have enough leave in order to cover the length of a maternity leave, which averages between six to 12 weeks for most new parents,” she said. 

Gross said the new parental paid leave policy is a powerful move in the right direction, and that it is going to make public school staff recruitment more competitive compared to the private sector.

Daycare centers in coastal North Carolina have long waiting lists, so providing paid parental leave to teachers relieves pressure and is an attractive employment benefit, she said. 

Thomas Tomberlin, senior director of educator preparation, licensure and performance at the N.C. Department of Public Instruction, said full-time and part-time employees get the same duration of paid leave, but that part-time employees’ salary is prorated.

“If you're part-time and the salary for the position is $60,000 and you're working 50 percent time, of course, you earn $30,000 a year,” he said. 

Before the paid parental leave statute modification in June, the state employees receiving paid parental leave must have worked at one employer for at least a year before receiving the leave. 

Before this parental leave policy was passed in S.B. 20 over the summer, Tomberlin said the laws and policies of the states had established each school district as independent employers.

“We interpreted that movement between those districts would restart your clock on this,” Tomberlin said. “When the General Assembly understood that that's how we were interpreting it, they went back and revised it to say any service in a participating entity — so anybody who participates in the state paid parental leave system — if you transfer between those entities, you can count the service in the prior when you move to the new place.”

Ingrid Bego, an associate professor of political science and international studies at Western Carolina University, said universities have been very flexible in terms of handling paid leave. But, she said that from a gender perspective, one does not want to create legislation that discourages women from reentering the labor market.

“There is a sweet spot there,” Bego said. “Eight weeks is not that. Eight weeks is very, very short. I mean, it's very rare in the developed world to have two-month-olds going to daycare.”

Luca Flabbi, a UNC economics professor, said the ideal duration of paid parental leave for him is five to six months equally divided between the parents and for the leave to be mandatory.

“There is definitely a lower bound — a minimum amount of leave that is really effective,” Flabbi said. “There is also an upper bound, and I’m referring to the northern European countries that have leaves of 15 months or 18 months.”

Flabbi said when the duration of the leave is so long, they induce women to stay out of the labor force for a very long period, and that they lose job and career opportunities.

Rep. Wiley Nickel (D-N.C. 13th) said he believes that the state legislature should not be using paid parental leave as a substitute for abortion availability. S.B. 20 outlawed most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, but some of the abortion provisions of the law were placed under an injunction last month.

“It's just an absolutely horrible bill for women in North Carolina and for families," Nickel said.

He said something he can do right now is continue to build support for paid parental leave in Congress.

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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