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Teachers and school employees in NC now qualify for paid parental leave

A recent state law limiting access to abortions has also formally enacted paid parental leave for state employees — and extended it for the first time to public school employees.

The state board of education got an update on the new law last week from its attorney Allison Schafer.

“This is a huge boon to employees,” Schafer told the board, adding that it also means schools must continue to pay employees during their leave using state funds. The state law appropriated $10 million to the Department of Public Instruction to pay for substitutes so teachers can take the paid leave.

“Paid parental leave for our public school professionals means no longer having to save up years worth of sick days or navigate school schedules when deciding to become a parent,” the North Carolina Association of Educators’ President Tamika Walker Kelly said in a statement to WUNC.

Walker Kelly said the NCAE has advocated for paid parental leave for years to give school employees the same rights enjoyed by other state employees, but she adds, “we are disappointed in the way the policy was shoehorned” into the abortion bill.

What was the parental leave policy for school employees before this new law?

Prior to this law, school employees could take 12 weeks of leave for the birth of a child under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but that leave was either unpaid or employees needed to save up and apply their personal or sick leave to be paid during that time.

Some state employees had previously been eligible for paid parental leave under a2019 executive order from Governor Roy Cooper, but that did not apply to school employees.

Who is eligible?

The law applies to state employees and school employees who've been employed for at least a year prior to receiving the benefit.

Parents who give birth will receive eight weeks paid leave. Non-birthing parents, including foster and adoptive parents, will receive 4 weeks paid leave.

The Office of State Human Resources confirmed the law applies to births and other qualifying events — such as foster placements and adoptions — occurring after July 1. The Department of Public Instruction is awaiting guidance from the legislature to confirm this applies to school employees.

Part-time employees will be eligible and will receive a prorated leave based on their regular hours. Employees who often receive overtime will be compensated based on their regular pay not including overtime. Independent contractors will not be eligible.

The Department of Public Instruction confirmed that a technical corrections bill that passed last week allows charter schools to opt into the leave policy but doesn't require their participation.

Can employees take more leave beyond the amount that they are eligible to receive paid?

Employees will continue to be entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave under FMLA. They can apply other forms of leave in addition to the new paid leave to make up the full 12 weeks. For example, a mother who gives birth may be eligible to apply her accrued sick leave for recuperation.

“What this means is you get eight weeks of paid leave if you give birth, and then you can also take whatever other leave you're entitled to take such as personal leave, annual leave, or leave without pay,” Schafer said.

That means school employees will not need to draw down as much of their earned time off in order to be paid during their parental leave. The paid leave must be concurrent with the 12 weeks of FMLA, so “it does not give an opportunity for 20 weeks of leave,” Schafer also clarified.

Where can I learn more?

The current paid parental leave policy for state employees is available online here. School employees should consult with their district’s central office or the Department of Public Instruction’s human resources office.

State agencies, including the Department of Public Instruction, are still working out specific rules for the policy. The State Board of Education is expected to vote on rules for the new leave policy in August to provide guidance to public schools across the state.

Liz Schlemmer is WUNC's Education Reporter, covering preschool through higher education. Email:
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