Cook County moving to offer employees 12 weeks paid parental leave

Workers across Cook County government could soon be eligible for 12 weeks of paid parental leave under a proposal from Cook County Commissioner Bridget Degnen and Board President Toni Preckwinkle.

The current policy allows four weeks paid leave for a birthing parent that has a nonsurgical delivery and six weeks for a surgical delivery. Non-birthing parents and adoptive parents are currently entitled to just two weeks. But citing research around improved health outcomes for both children and parents, the County Board unanimously approved a resolution to study the cost of expanding its paid parental leave policy in October.

The fiscal impact report, released Thursday, estimates the 12-week expansion to all county employees would cost an additional $3.8 million in salary and associated payroll taxes. That sum includes about $540,000 in overtime costs for employees helping cover the responsibilities for those on leave.

The current cost of paid parental leave is $2.1 million, according to the county’s bureau of finance. The estimates released Thursday assume all employees take the full 12 weeks. As it stands, about 40% of employees take less than 12 weeks off.

Officials reviewed new births and adoptions per year for employees “and historical parental leave data from previous years” to land on the cost, finance spokesman Ted Nelson said in an email. “The expected additional cost of $3.3 million is the amount of unpaid leave that will now be paid. For salaried employees taking longer leaves than they otherwise would have because of the new policy, there is no additional cost because they would be getting paid anyway.”

Last fall, Preckwinkle said she was in support of the expansion, but wanted to ensure employees could all be entitled to the same benefit at the same time.

“I’m a mother myself, not to mention a grandmother, so I believe in parental leave,” she said. “I’d like to be able to offer this benefit to both our exempt and union employees at the same time, and we’re trying to figure out how to manage that.”

The expansion would be “subject to collective bargaining,” according to legislation introduced to the board Thursday by Degnen and Preckwinkle. It would only apply to employees who had worked at the county for 12 consecutive months. Eligible employees could be the birth parent or non-birthing biological parent, the “intended parent of a gestational surrogacy,” or the adoptive or foster parent of a child 17 or younger.

The resolution for leave expansion was referred to committee at Thursday’s board meeting. If passed next month, the policy would go into effect July 1. Degnen told the Tribune she was seeking to expand it to Forest Preserves employees as well.

Chicago started offering 12 weeks of parental leave for its employees at the beginning of 2023.

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