Concerns raised over Mecklenburg County's paid family leave proposal

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County wants to provide paid family leave to county employees.

Currently the county has a non-paid leave policy and is in compliance with the Family Medical Leave Act. Employees are able to use sick and vacation days for paid leave.

The county wants to implement paid family leave for all full-time benefits eligible employees. The county would provide 100 percent of the employee's salary for six weeks. It would run concurrently with FMLA.

Qualifying reasons for paid family leave are for birth of a child, legal placement of a child for adoption, foster care or guardianship and caring for the employee's child, step child, spouse, parent or stepparent who has a serious health condition. It would go into effect January 2018.

"The county should be a leader and we need to take care of our employees," Commissioner Pat Cotham, D-at large, said. "We are in the human services business and we need to practice what we preach."

Cotham has been leading the charge for paid family leave. She said it will boost employee morale and increase retention.

"I think it is very important and studies show it makes for a healthier family and reduces stress," she said. "We need to lead the way on this."

At the board of commissioners meeting Tuesday night, Commissioner Bill James, R-District 6, expressed concern the policy would be abused.

"I see the way it's written, people, men in particular, taking time off and spending six weeks playing golf while their wife is at home with the baby," James said. "It just can't be I am lucky enough my wife got pregnant and she is going to be home and I get an extra six weeks to play golf."

County human resource policies have been abused in the past. Last year, an audit revealed 150 employees listed an ineligible person as a dependent. This resulted in a more than $1 million cost to taxpayers.

"I think it does cast a shadow on this and say, ‘How do we know Bob is taking the time to go care for his parents," Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, R-District 5, said.

Ridenhour is open to paid family leave but isn't ready to support it.

The county has a robust benefits package that includes 12 sick days and vacation time that rolls over each year.

Ridenhour wants to explore if it is possible to make sick days apply to using family leave to treat a dying loved one. He's in favor of paid maternal and paternal leave.

"I certainly think we need substantial improvements to our parental maternity policy, so it is not just maternity leave but that we add paternity leave," he said.

Ridenhour also has concerns about the care's cost.

The county said there is no additional budgetary appropriation needed but there could be additional costs in the future because of overtime and absences.

Mecklenburg County would have one of the most generous leave policies in the state.

Durham County offers paid parental leave for 12 weeks not concurrent with FMLA. Wake County offers paid parental leave for six to eight weeks concurrent with FMLA.

Compared to the private sector, Bank of America offers 16 weeks of parental leave concurrent with FMLA. Wells Fargo also offers 16 weeks of parental leave but only for the primary caregiver. The non-primary caregiver receives 4 weeks paid concurrent with FMLA.

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