Photo by Christian Bowen on Unsplash.com

Hats off to the Charleston City Council getting out from behind the 8-ball by proposing a new benefit that will keep city employees — paid family leave.  

Federal law currently allows employees to take up to 12 weeks off after the birth or adoption of a child. But it doesn’t require employers to pay for it. Many employers, however, do fund some or all of family leave because they realize it’s a way to keep loyal employees from leaving – a particularly vexing problem during or after a pandemic when there are more job openings than people to fill them.

Paid family leave has been in the Charleston City Council’s sights for a while, but Covid-19 got in the way. During the pandemic, lots of employees in government and private sector jobs had to leave to be caregivers. The pandemic created an all-hands-on-deck work environment, which made it a tough time to add benefits. But now that the pandemic is ebbing, it’s time. And the city recognizes that.

Charleston’s 2023 budget includes $33,000 to fund four weeks of paid maternity leave to city employees following the birth of a child. The proposal, which was included Nov. 8 in the city’s proposed budget, also would provide two weeks of continuous paid leave for either parent “for bonding with a newborn child, adopted child or child placed through foster care,” too. In other words, a mother could get a total of six weeks during a calendar year of paid family leave.

“The City Council recognized that turnover was high and like other municipalities saw many employees leave their jobs during Covid to attend to caregiving needs,” said Jennet Robinson Alterman, chair of the city’s Commission on Women. “Supporting working parents helps them to rejoin and remain in the workforce. It is not just important but critical to the economic stability of the community.”

Let’s hope the $33,000 for paid family leave stays in place when council meets Dec. 8 to approve the budget because it’s the right thing to do for employees — and it’s another way that the city can keep them from leaving for another job. Even the state of South Carolina — not exactly seen as a paragon of progressivism — offers paid family leave. In October, it added six weeks of paid parental leave for mothers and two paid weeks for co-parents.  

Local governments, such as Charleston County, that don’t currently offer paid family leave should consider it adding what the state currently does. But for now, kudos to the City of Charleston for taking a step it should have taken a long while back.


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