On May 3, Travis County commissioners voted to offer employees eight weeks of paid parental leave, and District 2 Council Member Vanessa Fuentes asked the city to consider doubling paid parental leave and extending eligibility for many employees.

The Travis County policy will take effect June 7, and employees would be eligible for the benefit after six months of employment with the county. City Council will take up the item to double paid family leave from six to 12 weeks and reduce the eligibility threshold from one year of service to six months.

New leave for county employees

“County government for us is like a family here, and I think we all share a mission that we need to stand up and support our families when they need us,” County Judge Andy Brown said.

Brown and Commissioner Jeff Travillion authored the motion that passed the court unanimously.

“What we do is often dictated by what we can afford, ... but we have to help our parents where we can. We think eight weeks is a good starting point,” Travillion said.

The policy is estimated to cost the county between $2.72 million-$3.55 million annually, including $997,545-$1.3 million for additional staff or overtime pay to cover for employees utilizing the program.

Travis County staff presented the court with three options for the policy, which ranged from offering six to 12 weeks of paid leave. The cost estimate of the program ranged from $2.3 million on the lowest end and $4.2 million, according to county documents.

Shannon Weidauer, the director of human resources for Travis County, said the policy will help the county attract and retain employees. She also said research shows paid parental leave leads to deeper bonds between parents and children and increases the health of children.

The policy will cover employees who have children, adopt or bring a child who is related to them into the home.

Commissioner Ann Howard said she wants the court to consider expanding the kinship category to cover employees who take in ill relatives.

Potentially expanded leave for city employees

Council Members Kathie Tovo, Ann Kitchen, Paige Ellis and Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter are co-sponsoring Fuentes’ request to expand and extend the city’s parental leave policy.

“We have a commitment and prioritization to being a [family-friendly] city. This includes providing new parents with paid time off to care for their newborn or recently adopted child during a critical time for bonding. This contributes to healthy development and improves parental health,” Fuentes said in an email. “Additionally, measures like these increase staff retention in a city where employers face significant competition to recruit and retain talent, including individuals with diverse family caretaker responsibilities.”

During a May 3 council work session, Fuentes said previous studies of Austin’s benefit policies made it “abundantly clear” that employees want expanded paid leave in addition to other family-oriented offerings. She also noted Austin has earned a middling rank among all Texas cities for its status as a family-friendly employer and said the city should follow in the footsteps of places such as Houston, which recently passed its own paid parental leave measure.

Joya Hayes, the city’s director of human resources, said while there is broad support within the city for paid leave offerings, further analysis of any potential expansion is needed. That review could take at least three months.

Hayes also said she is concerned with the possibility of lowering the benefit accrual period from one year to six months given the potential for abuse of the policy. Both Hayes and City Manager Spencer Cronk said granting additional weeks of leave for unsworn city staff could cause a conflict with sworn employees, who only recently were granted the base six weeks of leave following council action.

“If we’re going to offer something for some employees, it’s important to offer it for all of our employees,” Cronk said.

While expanding leave for police, fire and emergency medical services workers would come at a different cost than it would for unsworn staff, Fuentes said she is “absolutely” in favor of granting all city employees access to the full 12 weeks off following the birth, adoption or placement of a child.