When Cody Brandon had her first child, Cassidy, she and her husband George were part of the 74 percent of public-sector workers without paid family leave. So they pulled together their vacation and sick leave to have what paid time they could to care for their newborn.
“The adjustment to being a first-time mom and taking care of a newborn while recovering was very stressful,” says Ms. Brandon, a technical trainer for the Meat and Poultry Inspection Division of the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Mr. Brandon, who works for the department as a meat and poultry inspector, was only able to take a week off when Cassidy was born.
That was five years ago. Since then, the Department has implemented new parental paid leave policies. When Ms. Brandon had her son, Reed, 18 months’ ago, she and her husband were able to take a total of 12 weeks of paid parental leave to care for him.
“The paid parental leave was very beneficial to be able to stay at home with our newborn and not have to worry about not getting paid while out. It was also helpful that my husband was able to have paid time off to be with us as well since he works for the department. It was really nice not having all of those additional stressors with our second child,” Brandon says.
Thanks to an executive order signed by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2019, state agencies under the governor’s oversight responsibility can provide eight weeks of fully paid parental leave to eligible state employees who have given birth to a child and four weeks of fully paid parental leave to fathers or to parents who have adopted, are fostering, or who have received a legal placement of a child.
“Leadership felt this was an important benefit for our employees,” says benefits manager Yolanda Davis. “Since it started in September of 2019, we’ve had 81 (of 1,800) employees participate.”
The North Carolina Council of State Agencies, like the North Carolina of Agriculture and Consumer Services, are not required to offer paid parental leave but can opt in to offer this as an additional benefit to their employees. According to a state report released in 2021, more than 3,600 state employees used paid parental leave from September 2020 through June of last year.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is one of 10 agencies that have opted in to the paid leave allowed by the executive order. The other agencies are:
- Department of Labor,
- Department of Public Instruction,
- North Carolina Community College System Office,
- Office of Administrative Hearings,
- Office of the Commissioner of Banks,
- Office of the Secretary of State,
- Office of the State Auditor,
- Office of the State Controller,
- and the University of North Carolina System.
Additionally, employees for the state’s cabinet agencies also have access to paid leave. Those agencies include the Department of Administration; Department of Commerce; Department of Health and Human Services; Department of Justice; Department of Military and Veterans Affairs; and the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, among others.
The U.S. is one of six countries with no national paid leave policy. Nine states and the District of Columbia mandate some degree of paid parental leave, but only 23 percent of private sector workers (and 26 percent of public sector workers) have access to paid family leave through their employer.
In addition to paid parental leave, NC Department of Agriculture employees get up to 24 hours a year of community service leave to attend parent teacher meetings and up to 36 hours of paid community service leave when a school mandates or offers virtual classes.
It’s all part of a strategy to improve employee performance, productivity, and retention.
“We believe that family-friendly workplace policies send a positive message to our employees and potential employees,” says Davis. “It is important to us that we are able to optimize the health and well-being of parents and children.”
Elizabeth Heath, administrative officer II for the Plant Industry Division, says the department’s strategy is working.
“I enjoy working for [the department] because it is a family environment. Everyone generally cares about each other and our families,” she says.
Heath says she’s particularly grateful that the department has been flexible with working parents during the pandemic.
“In the beginning of the pandemic, both my older kids were doing schoolwork from home while I was still working,” she says. “The department allowed those that could work from home to do so, as well as offering paid leave time to take care of kids. This afforded me the ability to work from home and assist my kids with their school assignments.”
Brandon agrees – flexibility and understanding are key.
“The department is very understanding when emergent situations come up, such as sick children or when our babysitter gets sick,” she says.
- Paid leave that includes: vacation leave, sick leave, paid holidays, community service leave, parental leave, and military leave
- Health insurance through the state plan
- Dental and vision insurance that is separate from the state plan
- An employee assistance program
- A voluntary shared leave program