Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., has been fighting for paid parental leave for 15 years.

Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., has been fighting for paid parental leave for 15 years. Lauren Victoria Burke/AP file photo

A Potential Breakthrough for Paid Parental Leave for Feds

Bipartisan pair of House members high-five each other to make their support for work-life balance measures official.

Lawmakers on Thursday promised to be nicer to federal employees, and it appears they are already on their way to making good on that promise.

At a hearing on Thursday, a bipartisan pair of House members agreed in principle to craft work-life balance legislation for the federal workforce, potentially including paid leave for new parents. They even high-fived each other to make it official.

Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., and Mark Meadows, R-N.C., vowed to work together on bills to make the federal government a better employer for families. Earlier this year, Maloney introduced the Federal Employee Paid Parental Leave Act, which she touted at the hearing as a way to boost the morale of the federal workforce.

She also mentioned a piece of potential legislation that would allow feds to consult with a human relations adviser to ask about work-family balance options without fear of being fired. Maloney imagined a scenario -- one that happened to her earlier in her career -- in which an employee discloses a need to take some time off from work that results in the employee being told to never come back.

“I will endeavor to work with the gentlewoman from New York,” said Meadows, before pausing for a high five. “We’ll get that,” he added, referring to the bills.

Maloney has been fighting for paid parental leave for federal employees for 15 years, first introducing the measure in 2000. She was reinvigorated in her undertaking this year after President Obama called for the legislation in advance of his State of the Union address.

Under current Family and Medical Leave Act policy -- signed by President Clinton -- feds can take up to 12 weeks off to care for a new child, but that leave is unpaid. Maloney reiterated on Thursday not offering paid leave for new parents lags far behind other nations and the private sector. She said Meadows and other Republicans could support the measure because it would not add to the deficit. Maloney has previously argued that fact, in addition to the growing number of women in the Republican caucus, would allow the measure to pass should it come to the House floor.

When Obama made his call for the bill in January, he also signed a presidential memorandum to allow new parents to use up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for the child, even if the employees had not yet accrued that much time off. On Thursday, the Office of Personnel Management issued new guidance in support of that memo.

The guidance requires agencies to offer the benefit no later than June 15. OPM released a new handbook describing leave and workplace flexibilities available for parents involved in childbirth, adoption and foster care, as well as other flexibilities.

The HR agency noted all sick leave must be repaid. An employee who takes 13 days of advanced sick leave, for example, would have to go a full year without taking a single hour paid time off for medical reasons. Employees that are not expected to return to duty should not be provided with advanced sick leave, OPM said.