Newspaper article Roll Call

Answers on Paid Leave Hard for Staffers to Find

Newspaper article Roll Call

Answers on Paid Leave Hard for Staffers to Find

Article excerpt

If a member of Congress has a generous parental leave policy but the staff doesn't know about it, what's it worth?

On Monday, several House Democrats stood together to announce legislation that would provide federal employees with six weeks paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child. President Barack Obama has called for this very thing, but congressional action would be needed to guarantee that benefit.

Paid maternity and paternity leave for congressional staff is entirely at the whim of individual members. The approximately 21,000 aides on Capitol Hill are covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act through the 1995 Congressional Accountability Act, but the FMLA time is unpaid, and many staffers are reluctant to exhaust the full 12 weeks.

Hill Navigator posed the question to the seven members of Congress participating in the news conference announcing the paid leave legislation: How much paid maternity or paternity leave do you provide for your own staff? Within a day, each office had responded. Three of the members offer 12 weeks paid leave, considered generous by most U.S. workplace standards. Three other offices offer between six and eight weeks.

The big surprise? D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton's office said she offers two weeks paid leave, with the option to substitute accrued annual or sick leave for additional time.

To clarify, I asked Benjamin Fritsch, Norton's communications director, in our email exchange: "The same two weeks are both maternity and/or paternity?"

"Yes," he responded.

I later found out Fritsch had consulted his staff handbook to find the information. But it turns out the handbook is incorrect: Norton offers 12 weeks paid, both for maternity or paternity leave. (Though Fritsch said there has never been an instance of a father requesting family leave.)

Norton dictated to Fritsch a lengthy statement detailing the discrepancy, and she stressed her work championing this policy. She also admitted she had never seen this section of the handbook, which she said "was apparently copied from something House Administration had passed out to offices sometime in the past." She apologized for the "confusion," and said, "It is my fault. …

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