Federal employee groups are calling on Congress to include provisions in the final National Defense Authorization Act for 2020 that would guarantee civil servants 12 weeks of paid leave in the event of the birth or adoption of a child or a family member falling critically ill.

“The idea that in 2019 federal employees don’t have paid leave to use to welcome a new child into the family or to care for a sick and aging family member is truly unacceptable. As one of the country’s largest employers, the U.S. government should be leading this effort. Candidly, it should be a model employer, but instead they’re lagging behind the private sector employers and nearly every other industrialized country in the world,” Tony Reardon, national president of the National Treasury Employees Union, said in an Oct. 10 press call.

“This is a proven program that helps employees and keeps employees.”

The federal government has struggled in recent years to both attract and retain new employees, especially in the younger generations, to replace the large number of employees that are set to retire in coming years.

“This is putting a terrible burden on federal workers, and the government and taxpayers are paying a price as well through the costs of employee turnover and replacement,” said Erika Moritsugu, VP of Economic Justice at the National Partnership for Women and Families, on the call.

“In fact, the government could save $50 million dollars through reduced employee turnover and prevent the departure of more than 2,600 female employees a year by providing paid leave.”

Both the House and the Senate have had individual bills introduced that would put in place a paid family leave policy, and the House moved to add it to their version of the NDAA in July, in order to increase the bill’s chances of passage.

The family leave legislation was not added to the Senate’s version of the bill, and a September Senate vote to instruct the members of the conference for that bill to push for family leave inclusion failed by a single vote.

But, according to Reardon, that vote is not the be-all end-all for family leave inclusion in the NDAA.

“I think it is certainly something that is bipartisan,” said Reardon. “If all the Democrats had been present the resolution would have passed. And the four Republican senators who joined their Democratic colleagues supporting the resolution made it clear that there is growing bipartisan support for providing this important benefit. So I hope that the conferees take that into consideration.”

Federal employee unions have been able to negotiate for paid maternity and paternity leave in certain select agencies, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, but that policy is not applicable across the federal government and only applies to parental leave.

“NTEU remains absolutely convinced that any program needs to also include time for other family-type situations,” said Reardon.

Federal employees are currently guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of a new child or sick relative and can replace that time with other forms of paid leave such as sick leave or annual time off.

But employees from the FDA and IRS present on the call spoke to how those forms of leave are insufficient, as many employees can’t afford to take unpaid time and instead end up using up all of their other paid options.

Jennifer Haull, an employee at the IRS, said that she used up all of her sick leave and leave that was donated by her fellow employees to recover after giving birth to a child. With the need to pay back that leave, she will not have any sick leave available to her until her child is two years old, running the risk that she can’t take paid time off if her child gets sick.

Dawn Clark, also an IRS employee, said that she used up all of her sick leave to care for her father, who faced health issues caused by exposure to Agent Orange in the Vietnam war. Once that leave was used up, she had to drive hours only on weekends to be with him in hospice care at a Veterans Affairs medical facility.

Congress must agree on and pass spending legislation or another continuing resolution by Nov. 21 to avoid a government shutdown.

Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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