Washington D.C. – With the launch of the new paid parental leave program for federal employees just weeks away, the National Treasury Employees Union is asking the administration to remove unnecessary barriers and restrictions to the new workplace benefit.
In comments to the Office of Personnel Management, the union outlined how proposed regulations would make it harder for new parents to access the 12-weeks of paid leave that the law provides.
“It is clear that Congress intended this workplace benefit to be readily available to federal workers who welcome a new child into their homes, and unfortunately, OPM’s proposed regulations do not live up to that standard,” NTEU National President Tony Reardon said.
Congress in December approved a 12-week paid parental leave program – backed by NTEU -- that gives frontline federal workers the financial security to be at home to care for the arrival of a new child through birth, adoption or fostering.
In comments that NTEU submitted to OPM Sept. 8, the union said the proposed rule is too restrictive and onerous and urged changes before the program takes effect Oct. 1.
For example, NTEU believes OPM should allow employees to retroactively elect paid parental leave even if they were not “physically or mentally incapable” of choosing it before the child’s birth or placement. An employee may not be able to execute the required agreement (that they will work for the agency for 12 weeks following the paid leave) if the employee’s spouse delivers the child unexpectedly early, meaning they should still be allowed to choose the parental leave afterward.
In those cases when a serious health condition prevents the employee from returning to work at the end of the leave period, the agency should not be allowed to require “additional examinations” beyond the original certification of the condition from the health care provider, the union said.
“An agency should not be permitted to second-guess a medical professional’s assessment of the employee’s health and intrude upon the employee’s privacy rights,” Reardon wrote in NTEU’s comments.
NTEU is concerned that the agency’s discretion for requiring documentation is unnecessarily broad and could lead to some paid parental leave being improperly invalidated, causing financial harm to the family.
The union is also asking for confirmation that an agency may not seek reimbursement of healthcare contributions from an employee who is involuntarily separated before completing 12 weeks of work after paid parental leave; and, clarify that an employee using paid parental leave may also use annual leave to extend his or her paid time off.
“NTEU fought long and hard for this program and federal employees are eagerly awaiting its start,” Reardon said. “When the doors open on Oct. 1, we want paid parental leave to be open to all who qualify and to be free of regulations that limit its scope or discourage participation.”
NTEU represents about 150,000 employees at 33 federal agencies and departments.