Travis County employees are set to receive a total of 12 weeks of paid parental leave as commissioners unanimously approved an expansion of the program Sept. 12.

“As a parent, I know how important those first few weeks are with a newborn,” Travis County Judge Andy Brown said. “And I’ll never forget that time that I had with my kids when they were in those early stages. And I want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can as a Travis County employer to make sure that we’re offering that same opportunity to our Travis County family.”

How we got here

Travis County approved its first paid parental leave policy, which offered eight weeks of paid time off, in May 2022.

Officials estimated the policy would cost $2.3 million annually on the low end, but it ended up costing less than $2 million in its first year.

The court planned to expand the program to 10 weeks after the first year, but Commissioner Ann Howard encouraged commissioners to bump it up another two weeks. The county’s program surpasses the city’s, which offers six weeks.

“My daughter got 12 weeks paid time off from her employer in Denver, and it made the world of difference to that young family getting a start,” Howard said. “I know the budget, and I believe we could afford it.”

The impact

Paid parental leave increases parent-child bonding, improves prenatal and postnatal care, and reduces the likelihood of women leaving their jobs in the first year after giving birth by 50%, said Emily Amps, director of politics and policy at labor union Texas AFL-CIO.

“It’s estimated that 80% of U.S. employees do not have access to paid parental leave,” Amps said. “That needs to change, and not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it has a direct impact on employee retention.”

So far, 120 employees have used Travis County’s program, and over 38,000 hours of paid leave for a birth adoption, foster or kinship placement were approved.

Zooming in

Brown said one potential challenge of the new policy is finding adequate staffing at the Travis County Sheriff's Office when new parents take time off amid ongoing employee shortages. In March, the department faced 263 vacancies despite hiring a marketing and recruiting team and increasing wages.