Health & Science

City of Houston employees will now get paid parental leave

The policy goes into effect May 14, and includes pre- and postnatal leave, including 160 hours for prenatal appointments and 40 hours of infant wellness leave for the child’s first-year health care appointments.

Lucio Vasquez / Houston Public Media

Houston City Council voted unanimously to approve a new parental leave policy that provides 12 weeks leave to new parents working for the city of Houston on Wednesday.

The policy goes into effect May 14, and includes pre- and postnatal leave, including 160 hours for prenatal appointments and 40 hours of infant wellness leave for the child’s first-year health care appointments.

Starting out, parents working for the city will have 320 hours of paid parental leave and 480 hours of paid leave starting Sept. 1, 2023.

Councilmember Abbie Kamin, who helped spearhead the policy, said it will make a difference for women working for the city.

Kamin, who gave birth to her son Slade while she was on council, said society needs be more open in its discussion of how pregnancy and birth impact working women.

“Women have rights and needs and shouldn’t be afraid to seek accommodations,” Kamin said. “There’s a stigma that for far too long has been accepted, and that’s why we must talk about it and normalize it.”

Mayor Sylvester Turner signed the ordinance into law shortly after the vote.

"It means that our employees, mothers and dads, no longer must choose between their job and their children, or quite frankly utilizing all of their vacation time and other leave time in order to get time with their kid," Turner said of the policy.

Under current policy, people working for the city have the option of 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child. Those who want paid leave must have saved up vacation and sick leave.

Roy Sanchez, the president of the Houston city employee union, said the new parental leave policy will be beneficial to new parents working for the city. Those new parents are often new employees as well, and haven't been able to save up a lot of extra time to use when a child is born.

“I've been working with the city for 28 years, so I've got a lot of vacation time built up,” Sanchez said. “New employees, they don't have a lot of vacation time built up, so it's tough for them, and this is going to help them out.”

Supporters of the policy on council said helping out new parents will also help with employee recruitment and retention. Councilmember Amy Peck said that’s one of the reasons she voted in favor of the policy, even though she said there will be a small financial impact on the city.

Peck, a mother of two, gave birth to both of her children while she was working as a city employee.

“I know what it feels like to have to return to work,” Peck said. “That’s a hard thing to do, so at a minimal cost, if we can help our employees to not have to do that, I think that we should.”

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