On Monday, Wake County became the latest North Carolina government to endorse paid parental leave, adopting a policy granting paid leave to its nearly four thousand employees, of whom 62 percent are women and about 31 percent are women in child-bearing years.
The policy, which was proposed by Wake County Commissioner Jessica Holmes and passed unanimously by the Board of Commissioners, will provide six weeks paid time off (and eight weeks in the case of complications) to employees who have worked for the county for at least twelve months. Wake County staff say that, in the last nine months, 34 percent of employees who needed leave didn't have enough vacation or sick time to cover it; on average, those employees—with newborn or recently adopted children—lost about 203 hours of work without pay.
"I was very proud to lead this initiative and bring it forward to the county," says Holmes, who in 2014, at the age of thirty, became the youngest commissioner in Wake County history. "It's a bipartisan initiative—both [presidential] candidates have endorsed some form of paid parental leave—and it produces better outcomes for both mothers and babies. And in terms of the current policy being archaic, it was time for Wake County to be a part of that change and put ourselves into a position to recruit and retain the best talent we can."
Holmes also points out at the new policy won't just cover the birth of a child but also adoption and fostering. As someone who was raised by her grandmother, she says she's "particularly proud" of that.
"You can't have family values if you don't value families," adds Commissioner John Burns.
The United States is one of just twelve countries in the world that don't offer federal maternity leave, and just three U.S. states—California, New Jersey, and Connecticut—offer it on a statewide level.
Wake County isn't the first North Carolina municipal government to offer paid leave to employees. Back in October, the Durham County Board of Commissioners adopted a twelve-week policy, and in August, the Greensboro City Council passed an ordinance granting six weeks of paid leave. (Orange County allows employees to take up to six months of unpaid leave.)
"Tonight," Holmes said after the vote, "I feel like Wake County is leading other counties in this state, and other counties in this country."
Given recent battles between the state and local governments over local control—HB 2 included—creating a family-leave policy for county employees is likely the most the county could do without a challenge in the courts or the legislature.
For Burns, this move was a no-brainer.
"Wake County government is an employer," he says. "We have to treat our own employees with dignity and provide benefits that attract the best possible talent to serve the people of Wake County. This is a necessary step to doing that."