The County Council unanimously passed a pair of bills spearheaded by Council Member Andrew Friedson that are designed to improve working conditions for county employees.
One bill would require that county buildings install lactation rooms for county employees. The legislation underwent some modifications from its first draft, which called for rooms to be outfitted with a flat surface where a breast pump can be placed, a sink with running water, a small fridge, a microwave, electrical outlets, a chair, and other needs.
After reviews by several county agencies, the legislation now requires:
- Lactation rooms in new county buildings to have a sink with running water while existing buildings must at least have nearby access to running water;
- The county to complete an assessment of lactation rooms in its buildings within six months, construction of the rooms in the highest occupancy buildings within 12 months, and construction of room in all county buildings within 24 months;
- The county to give employees a reasonable amount of time to express breast milk, but the county is not required to pay them for that time;
- The rooms to have the ability to be locked or secured from the inside. The Office of Human Resources must work with the county to help identify where they are, once installed.
Supporters of the bill said at a news briefing in June that the legislation will help county employees who need access to such rooms after giving birth and help alleviate a major challenge for employees trying to juggle work and child care.
The second bill implements a paid parental leave policy for county employees. The policy provides six weeks of full salary for part- and full-time county employees, including biological parents, adoptive parents or foster parents. The bill also applies to county employees who are the spouse or domestic partner of a parent and provides paid family leave for parents of stillborn children.
The paid parental leave may not count against employees’ other types of paid time off, except for Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) — the federal law allowing for leave related to sickness, taking care of a new child or ill family member — according to the bill. Also, county employees must not be required to exhaust sick time, vacation time or other paid time off before using paid parental leave.
Friedson said in an interview in June that the paid family leave legislation was meant as a tool to attract and retain employees, and that the county government should be setting an example for the private sector.
“We don’t want to spend all the time building up the institutional knowledge, training members of our workforce, getting them the skills to be productive supporters of our community — and then, when they have a child, to not have the right support here, and have to make that awful, impossible decision between taking care of their family and their newborn or their foster child or returning to work,” Friedson said.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org