Vivid Pixels /

Obama Proposes Paid Family Leave for Feds

President directs agencies to give federal employees up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for new children and ill family members.

This story has been updated.

President Obama is directing agencies to advance federal employees up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family members.

Obama on Thursday signed a presidential memorandum expanding the current unpaid family leave benefit – something feds and advocates of government workers have been urging for years. The memo “will allow mothers the opportunity to recuperate after child birth, even if they have not accrued enough sick leave. It will also allow spouses and partners to care for mothers during their recuperation periods and will allow both parents to attend proceedings relating to the adoption of a child,” stated a White House fact sheet.

Obama also is proposing congressional legislation that would give federal workers six weeks of paid administrative leave for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. In addition, the bill would allow parents to use sick days to care for a healthy child after birth or adoption. If passed, it would make paid family leave for feds law.

Between the memo and the proposed legislation, Obama is advocating for 12 weeks total of paid leave for federal workers from two different leave banks – sick and administrative. Federal workers accrue sick leave as a benefit; administrative leave is an excused absence from work. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to most government and private sector workers for the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for seriously ill family members. Federal employees who give birth or adopt can tap their accrued sick and annual leave to avoid three months without a paycheck, but many bristle at having to use hard-earned leave when paid parental leave is becoming more prevalent in the private sector.

Obama’s push for paid parental leave is part of a larger agenda to strengthen the middle class by giving families more work-life flexibility.

Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney of New York has been introducing legislation since 2000 that would provide some paid time off for new federal parents. The House has passed the legislation twice during the past 13 years, but it has languished in the Senate. Maloney praised Obama’s move to make paid leave a reality for feds.

“Raising a child is the single most important task a human being can take on, yet the United States lags behind the rest of the world in supporting and encouraging new parents,” said Maloney in a statement. “Currently, federal employees must deplete their annual leave and sick time to take time off after the arrival of a child. With this action, the federal government can lead the way, make ‘family-friendly’ more than a buzzword, and ensure that both newborns and the government benefit.”

Maloney plans to introduce legislation soon on paid parental leave, according to an aide.

Federal advocates also were happy about Obama’s announcement. “More and more private employers around the world are offering parents paid time off so they can take care of their newborns,” said Richard G. Thissen, president of the National Active and Retired Federal Employees Association. “As a result, federal agencies can't compete with the private sector for talented younger workers who, if electing federal employment, would have to use accrued vacation or sick time, which may be only a few days, or forgo pay in order to take time off after the birth of a child.”

American Federation of Government Employees National President J. David Cox Sr. said federal workers “are only able to accumulate a maximum of 30 days of annual leave,” which is not enough time to care for a new child. “The federal government already reimburses its contractors for the cost of paid parental leave. It’s time for government to extend these benefits to its own employees.”

Obama’s memo also directed agencies to consider helping, and in some cases, providing to feds emergency back-up care for children, seniors and adults with disabilities.