Gov. Jeff Colyer signed an executive order granting paid parental leave to many state employees last week. His order is a welcome step towards making Kansas a better place to live, work and raise a family.
The lack of paid leave for parents in America is a serious problem. Only 15 percent of U.S. workers were eligible for paid family leave in 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The benefit is disproportionately offered to people who already make good salaries, with only 6 percent of low-income workers getting paid leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires most employers to offer unpaid leave after the birth of a child, but many Americans can't afford significant amounts of unpaid time off work.
America’s lack of paid parental leave is often considered a contributing factor to our high rates of infant and maternal mortality compared to other industrialized countries. Unpaid leave has also been linked to maternal depression and more difficulty breastfeeding.
Paid leave for mothers and fathers after the birth or adoption of a child is a smart move for any employer. Women who get paid maternal leave are more likely to return to work after having a baby and are more productive when they come back. Young job-seekers in demand by employers will increasingly ask about paid parental leave policies when comparing offers.
All Kansans, whether they have children or not, benefit from paid parental leave. Mothers who get paid leave are less likely to need public assistance. Newborn babies, our community’s future leaders, also benefit from getting a healthy start. Paid leave is a significant recruitment draw, helping Kansas attract and retain the best and the brightest in service to our state.
The next step is expansion of paid parental leave benefits beyond the executive branch, over which the governor’s order has authority, and to all Kansas employees. The Legislature should act soon to extend benefits to the full state workforce.
Private employers should also take a careful look at paid parental leave. The increased recruitment and retention that comes from such policies makes them more cost-effective than many employers initially believe.
We thank Gov. Colyer for his progress on this issue and encourage others to follow his lead.
The benefits of paid parental leave are well-documented, but employers shouldn’t just offer paid leave because of the economic, health and productivity benefits. Employers should offer it because giving new moms and dads the opportunity to be with their babies is simply the right thing to do.