Whether you get any paid time off to take care of a new child and/or recover from birth largely depends on where you work.

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Whether you get any paid time off to take care of a new child and/or recover from birth largely depends on where you work.

While King County passed parental leave for its own employees in 2016, Washington, like most states, doesn’t have any sort of paid family leave policy on the books. (The state Legislature passed a family-leave bill for new parents in 2007 — but it was never funded, so it never took effect.) In Seattle, a recent survey sponsored by the city found that half of companies do not offer any form of paid parental or family leave.

“Unless you’re working at a company that offers paid family leave benefits, you don’t have access to any paid time off,” says Jaron Goddard, a commissioner on the Seattle Women’s Commission who has advocated for paid family leave since 2015. “The national standard is FMLA, which provides 12 weeks of unpaid time off [for qualifying employees]. But the vast majority of people can’t go one month, let alone three, without a paycheck to cover their rent, mortgage or food for their table.”

Local companies like Microsoft, Nordstrom, Starbucks and Amazon have recently increased paid family leave policies for their employees.

“It’s fantastic to see companies, particularly from the tech sector, expand their benefits packages,” says Goddard. “These companies aren’t just incorporating paid family leave into their benefits to attract more workers, but to keep them there.”

She’s right. When Google provided more generous parental leave in 2007, increasing from 12 to 18 weeks at full pay, they experienced a 50 percent decrease in mothers who quit. an employer-led joint initiative between the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce the Women’s Funding Alliance aimed at

Those in the Seattle area, from companies to legislators, are talking more about the need for universal parental leave. The 100 Percent Talent Initiative, an employer-led joint initiative between the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce the Women’s Funding Alliance aimed at  closing the gender wage gap, includes paid family leave as one of its 31 best-practice solutions

Paid family leave helps close the gender wage gap and contributes to gender equity in the workplace, says Emma Mayberry, 100 Percent Talent Initiative’s director. “Paid family leave significantly reduces work-family conflict in the early stages of parenthood, and reduces the chances that women feel they need to choose between their families and careers,” Mayberry says. “Women with access to paid family leave are also more likely to remain in the workforce, which is critical to the success of our regional economy.”

While paid parental leave benefits can help recruit and retain a highly skilled workforce and be worth a large company’s effort in the long run, paying for someone’s leave, and potentially a replacement salary as well, is expensive in the short term, especially for smaller companies.

“This is why an insurance type model as proposed in the Washington state Legislature is ideal: Employees and employers pay into a fund, spreading the costs and economic shocks for employers,” says Goddard. “Particularly for smaller businesses, these costs are substantial and not to be underrated by paid family leave advocates. Advocates should be focused on helping businesses of all sizes and industries transition their business plans to include paid family leave, recognizing that the challenges and constraints differ substantially across industries.”

Local advocates say you have some options if you’re planning a family and your workplace doesn’t offer any paid time off for new parents.

“There are success stories of businesses offering paid family leave in many sectors and sizes of businesses. This doesn’t mean that it is feasible at every business,” says Goddard. “But, if you’re an employee seeking to learn more about how paid parental leave policies work and if they could be implemented in your workplace, I suggest contacting The Main Street Alliance [an advocacy group working with small businesses on public policy issues].”

If you work for one of the more than two dozen employer signatories in the area, the 100 Percent Talent Initiative has resources available on their website that you’re free to browse.

There’s also legislative movement to make paid family leave available for everyone in our area, regardless of whether they work for a company with cushy benefits. There are two competing bills currently being debated in the state legislature and one introduced in the Seattle City Council that would cover all employees in Seattle.

“Legislation that would support universal parental leave is actually very popular in Washington state,” says Maggie Humphreys, Washington state director of MomsRising, an advocacy group which supports paid family leave nationwide. Humphreys is referring to the results of a 2016 poll by the Washington state Department of Labor that found that about 3 out of 4 of those surveyed approved of a universal paid family and medical leave program, including the payroll premium that would fund it.

Humphreys says that for legislation like this to pass, legislators need to hear from those who support it. “Contacting your state legislators and letting them know your stories of needing parental leave or how it helped you, how this kind of legislation is impacting families directly can make a big difference,” she says.

The Chamber of Commerce supports a statewide paid family leave policy as well, one that’s feasible for all sizes of businesses and helps employers and employees both get what they need.

After all, says Mayberry, access to paid parental leave for all is good for everyone in the Seattle area. “When women participate in the workforce equally, more of our local talent is empowered to innovate and grow business,” she says.