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Don’t wait for paid leave law to take effect; Engineer something better now

MICHELLE DeCARLO
MICHELLE DeCARLO

By Michelle DeCarlo

When former ASHRAE NY President Lorey Flick Roberts created the Women in Engineering Committee (WiE) her primary purpose was to keep women in the engineering field. One major issue at the forefront of WiE’s ongoing conversation is paid parental leave.

This discussion is not limited to women, however; many men with new or expanding families are also interested in and affected by this important topic.

While critics argue that paying for parental leave is an added burden to businesses, the numbers suggest otherwise. A few years after California instituted paid medical leave, 91 percent of employers surveyed said the policy either increased profits or had no effect, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The California survey also found that more than 95 percent of those who took a family leave returned to work at the end of the leave period, and more than four-fifths returned to the same employer they had worked for prior to the leave. These results just reinforce the simple fact that paid parental leave promotes employee retention with no negative effects on the company.

A new state law passed in April will mandate paid time off for employees to bond with a new child, including adopted and foster children. Beginning on January 1, 2018, employees in New York State are entitled to up to 8 weeks of paid leave a year. This increases to 10 weeks in 2019 and 2020, and to 12 weeks thereafter.

In 2018, a worker will receive 50 percent of his or her average weekly wages up to a cap that is equal to 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage. This amount will increase over the following 3 years to 67 percent of the worker’s average weekly wages, capped at 67 percent of the statewide average weekly wage. It is important to note that compensation for engineering professionals is typically higher than average.

New York’s Parental Leave Policy is more comprehensive than the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This federal law requires companies larger than 50 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees for incapacity due to pregnancy, prenatal medical care or childbirth, to care for the employee’s child after birth, or placement for adoption or foster care. 150916122957-new-parents-with-baby-780x439

The most obvious difference is that the New York policy is a paid leave policy, and it also does not exempt firms with fewer than 50 employees.

As a member of the Jaros, Baum & Bolles Incentives & Benefits Committee, I wrote a proposal for paid parental leave that was submitted for partnership consideration.

In March of this year, JB&B implemented this new parental leave policy for full-time employees who have been employed with the company for 3 years. With the goal of broadening access to parental leave benefits by older as well as same-sex couples, the firm decided to include adoption and surrogacy.

For example, a man in a same-sex relationship could qualify under the maternity clause when adopting or using a surrogate. Similarly, a female in a same-sex relationship could access the paternity benefit. For maternity leave, including adoption and surrogacy, we now provide 7 weeks of full salary, paid through short-term disability, where applicable, with the remainder of the salary supplemented by the firm. For paternity leave, we provide 2 weeks of full salary.

JB&B is the exception to the rule. According to a survey of ASHRAE NY member companies, very few offer any form of paid parental leave.

At a time when finding qualified staff is often difficult, all professional service firms should be thinking and talking about how we can better support our employees.

The forthcoming New York State benefit is a momentous step in the right direction, but it may still fall short of adequately supporting professional engineers. This is because the wage caps included in the law are likely to limit their pay to an insufficient fraction of their normal rate.

Firms should not wait for the new law to go into effect, nor should our industry accept its provisions as the absolute best we can do for our people. In the interest of hiring and retaining the most qualified and talented staff – be they women or men – every firm should support new parents by offering an appropriate amount of financial and job security through a forward-looking parental leave policy.

With enactment of the new state law still nearly two years away, ASHRAE NY recommends that firms take the initiative and promptly institute a parental leave policy that at least equals the stipulations of the impending legislation. Statistics and experience show that it’s the right move to make, not only for the good of employees, but for the firm’s bottom line.

Michelle M. DeCarlo serves as an Associate at Jaros, Baum & Bolles. She a licensed Professional Engineer in the State of New York and a LEED Accredited Professional BD+C. 

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