Democratic legislation aims to make maternity and paternity leave equal and consistent across the armed services.
All service members would receive at least 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a new child under a bill introduced in the House.
The Military Parental Leave Modernization Act would ensure that new dads receive 12 weeks of paid paternity leave, equal to the three months that female service members now receive for maternity leave. The bill also would give a minimum of 12 weeks’ paid leave to adoptive parents. In dual-military families, both service member parents would be able to take the 12 weeks leave under H.R. 4796.
The legislation, introduced by Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., aims to consolidate the military’s “disparate and confusing parental leave policies into a single policy that is both consistent and equitable for all parents while also helping improve military readiness and workforce competitiveness,” said a statement from Duckworth’s office.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced in January that the department would provide 12 weeks of maternity leave for female service members. The Pentagon has broad discretion over determining the amount of maternity leave for female service members because giving birth is considered part of convalescent leave. Before Carter’s announcement, most female service members received six weeks of maternity leave (though the Navy received 18 weeks).
Duckworth’s bill goes far beyond some of Carter’s other proposals. The Pentagon chief recommended increasing paternity leave for male service members from 10 to 14 days, as well as expanding leave to care for an adopted child to the second parent in dual-military marriages (there are 84,000 military-to-military marriages). Currently the department provides three weeks of paid leave to one parent to care for a new adopted child. Carter’s proposal would provide two weeks of such leave to the second parent if that second parent is also in the military.
Congress, however, has to approve any changes to paid leave outside of maternity leave.
“Moms and dads need time for family when a new baby is born or adopted,” said Emily Martin, vice president for workplace justice at the National Women’s Law Center, in support of Duckworth’s bill. “Your ability to bond with your baby shouldn’t turn on your gender or your marital status or on whether you are a service member or civilian.”
Other family-friendly Defense proposals that don’t require legislative change include a pilot program allowing service members to freeze their eggs and sperm, preserving the option to start a family later on if they choose.
On the civilian side, Democratic lawmakers for nearly two decades have tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation granting that benefit to civilian federal employees to care for a new child. President Obama has endorsed the idea in his last two budgets and through an executive action, in which he directed agencies to advance federal employees up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family member. Right now, 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.