Cooper signed an executive order that will provide eight weeks of full paid parental leave for those who give birth as of Sept. 1 and four weeks to their spouses or partners. Four weeks also would be provided for adoptions or receiving foster children.
"When you're a parent, you never forget what it's like to welcome a new baby into the family. Everything in your life changes in an instant," Cooper said at the Executive Mansion event, with an audience that included mothers holding their cooing small children. "Parents deserve this time to care for their kids, and kids deserve healthy beginnings."
Such paid leave is already offered by many private-sector companies. More than a dozen states mandate it for state employees or both private and public employees, according to Cooper's office. North Carolina state employees affected by the order can use their regular earned vacation or sick leave when a child is born, as well as three months of unpaid leave, as federal law requires.
The Democratic governor said paid parental leave has been found to increase worker productivity and improve recruitment and retention. Studies also show that such time at home for parents improves bonding between fathers and children, and promote mental and physical health for families, according to his administration.
The order "brings North Carolina closer to a time when families will no longer be forced to choose between their financial security when serious illness strikes, a family member needs care or a new baby arrives," said Beth Messersmith with the Moms Rising North Carolina advocacy group.
State Trooper Marcus Bethea, a Highway Patrol recruiter, said he was back at work within two weeks of his children being born while working for the patrol.
"I am ecstatic ... to tell our applicants, 'Yes, we are hiring and, yes, we support your ambition to start a family,'" Bethea said.
Cooper said the order would cover about 56,000 state employees in the Cabinet agencies, boards and commissions, and officers under his oversight. Other Council of State agencies - those led by people separately elected by voters - will be urged to participate. The paid leave must be taken within 12 months of the birth or adoption.
Cooper said carrying out the order will cost the state $3.5 million annually, but he said his agencies can absorb the expense from current funding. He said it would result in taxpayer saving over time by keeping good workers in place and reducing the need for workers who could take unpaid leave to access other public assistance services.
Thursday's order is the latest signed by Cooper to promote policies his administration considers supportive of women in the workplace and family-friendly. One order requires agencies to provide workplace adjustments to pregnant workers. The other prevents agencies in his administration from reviewing salary histories of job applicants.
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