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Seattle offers city workers 12 weeks paid parental leave, with a catch

M. Lorena González
KUOW Photo/Meghan Walker
Seattle City Councilmember Lorena González championed the new parental leave ordinance."

New moms and dads who work for the city of Seattle will now be allowed 12 weeks of paid leave. The City Council unanimously adopted a new parental leave policy Monday with the support of Mayor Ed Murray.

Supporters say expanding the paid parental leave law is a step toward closing the gender pay-gap.

City Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez explained that family care often falls to women. In the City Council meeting, she cited reports that women take unpaid time off at higher rates than men when they are not offered parental leave. She championed the new ordinance.

Gonzalez: "I think we can be really proud of the fact that there will be a huge positive impact to the city's workforce that is in strong alignment with our principles and values."

The city was offering four weeks up until now. The change affects the more than 13,000 employees at the City of Seattle.

But for some, the measure isn't enough. That's because the city is technically offering 8 weeks of parental leave and will require employees to use up vacation or sick time to make it a full 12 weeks. For employees who don't have four weeks of time-off to use, the city will give them extra parental leave so they have 12 weeks off.

Councilmember Kshama Sawant supports the new leave law, but plans to fight that requirement in the future.

Sawant: "This means women, who would more commonly use all 12 weeks of paid leave, and that's borne out by data around the nation, would be forced to end up drawing down more vacation and sick leave than men in city employment."

Most large employers in Washington now offer some sort of paid parental leave. For example, King County workers get 12 weeks off, and Boeing offers three weeks.

The state does not have a policy for state employees, but lawmakers are considering one this year.

At Amazon, mothers can take 20 weeks of paid time off to care for a new child. The Gates Foundation has the most robust policy, offering 52 weeks of paid leave for women or men bringing a new child into the family.

Seattle’s new law includes another benefit that’s less common: Workers will be able to take off four weeks for family care when they have a sick relative to tend to. The council added this since many Seattleites have other family to care for besides children.

Updated 02/14/17 at 12:20 p.m. to include more information about when employees will need to use accrued vacation time.