Denver wants to offer paid family leave to its employees, and it’s studying the best way to do that

CHLOE
City of Denver employees could get paid to do this - soon. (Donnie Ray Jones/Flickr)

City of Denver employees could get paid to do this -- soon. (Donnie Ray Jones/Flickr)

Someday — maybe as soon as next year — people who work for the city of Denver could get paid leave when they have a new baby or an elderly parent to take care of.

That would put them in the minority of U.S. workers, and city officials hope that they can be an example to the private sector and change policies that affect not only American families but American businesses.

The United States is the only developed country without mandated paid sick or maternity leave. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, workers who take time off to care for an infant, ill family members or their own medical issues are guaranteed job safety during leave. But that leave is unpaid.

That means many women don’t take the full 12 weeks to which they are entitled because they can’t afford it, according to the Department of Labor.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau is hoping to change that, in part by helping cities study the potential costs and benefits of offering paid leave. The bureau announced a total of $1.1 million in grants to five cities Monday as a part of the Paid Leave Analysis Grant Program. Denver will receive $126,091 of that.

The grant is actually funding a second phase of the Denver Paid Family Leave Research Project. Phase one was an analysis of maternity and paternity leave. Phase two will involve research into elder care and paid sick leave. The goal is to develop a comprehensive paid time off program for city employees, according to city of Denver spokesperson Courtney Law.

“We are thrilled to receive this grant from the Department of Labor to help us study the benefits we offer employees to better support their families,” Mayor Michael B. Hancock said in a statement.

“Our hope is that once the study has concluded and we determine a thoughtful and informed approach to modernizing our benefits policies, Denver can become a leader among local employers in offering comprehensive paid family and medical leave options.”

The study will examine paid leave programs of companies comparable in size to the city of Denver and test best practices for implementing paid leave for city employees. The city aims to roll out a paid leave program by August 2017 with hopes that other companies will follow suit.

The lack of paid leave hurts the U.S. economy.

A Department of Labor study found that withholding paid leave is actually more costly than providing it. Fewer family resources make women less likely to work in the U.S. than in other countries and reducing productivity by about $500 billion per year. Companies without paid leave can incur costs associated with high turnover and are less competitive to potential talent on the international scale, the report states.

The grant program is one part of a larger trend to implement these changes nationwide — for the health of the economy, as much as for families.

“Research shows us that paid family and medical-leave programs are good for families as well as businesses,” said Women’s Bureau Director Latifa Lyles. “Today’s announcement is another critical step toward helping communities nationwide to develop the administrative and financial infrastructure necessary to meet the realities of today’s working families while also bolstering the nation’s long-term economic success.”

Funds were awarded August 1 to the city and county of Denver; the city of Madison; the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry; Franklin County, Ohio, Board of Commissioners; the Indiana Commission for Women; and the Hawaii Department of Human Services.

Since 2014, the Paid Leave Analysis Grant Program has put more than $3 million toward research on paid medical leave to try to bring America’s leave policies up to standard with other countries, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Multimedia business & healthcare reporter Chloe Aiello can be reached via email at caiello@denverite.com or twitter.com/chlobo_ilo.

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