By Amanda J. Richard
In December 2019, Director General of the Foreign Service and Director of Global Talent Carol Z. Perez announced the president’s signing of new legislation, the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA), which amended the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. FEPLA allows covered federal employees 12 work weeks of paid parental leave (PPL) in connection with a birth or placement (for adoption or foster care) of a child occurring on or after Oct. 1, 2020. A passion project for many, FEPLA was a historic step forward in allowing workplace flexibilities to parents as they adjust to new family members. Before the implementation of FEPLA, new parents often used a combination of annual leave, sick leave, and leave without pay to cover this time away from work.
“I am thrilled that moving forward, employees will have this time to bond with their new family member without feeling rushed back to work,” said Perez. “This is progress. Yet even as we celebrate this important achievement, our work continues.”
With FEPLA signed, the Bureau of Global Talent Management’s Office of Employee Relations Work/Life Division (GTM/ER/WLD)—working with the Office of the Comptroller and Global Financial Services and the Office of the Legal Advisor (L)—was then tasked with developing the Department of State’s PPL policy and preparing how the new policy would be implemented come October 2020. Questions such as, “Who is eligible? How does one request PPL? And how was the leave entered into timekeeping?” would all need to be answered in detail, in addition to the task of updating the current policy in the Foreign Affairs Manual.
“The Office of Employee Relations did some heavy-lifting to make sure that this policy would be ready for State Department parents to use on day one,” said GTM Deputy Assistant Secretary Jeanne Juliao. “This involved close coordination with L/Employment Law colleagues to translate the law and turning the Office of Personnel Management’s interpretation into guidance and new leave forms that made sense for our employees. It also meant conducting information sessions with the Department’s human resources officers to make sure they were prepared to help employees utilize this new leave option.”
After six weeks of hard work, the Department announced the updated PPL policy (3 FAM 3530), Sept. 22, 2020. Department memos outlined the PPL details and provided resources for usage and implementation of the new policy. GTM/ER/WLD also released a New Parent Guide and video tutorials on leave options for new parents, and other resources on pregnancy and adoption can be found on the Department’s website.
“Paid parental leave is a fundamental recognition that the federal government values its workforce,” said Peter Winter, a special assistant in the Office of the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs and new father who has benefitted from PPL in recent months. “Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) spend years, sometimes decades, separated from their families and homes, and this benefit allows us an opportunity to focus on the most important things in life. Additionally, as a new father, I am proud that I can pull my weight in raising our newborn and (at least try to) be an equal partner with my wife, a fellow FSO, in parenting. Paid parental leave means we don’t have to pick one person’s career over the other or sacrifice those special early moments with our child.”
While the hard part might be over, the Department will continue pursuing common-sense policy changes to better support the workforce. Employees are encouraged to send their ideas to the Innovation Unit so that the momentum of work/life balance for all can continue. All questions regarding PPL or leave policy should be sent to your bureau or post human resources office.
Amanda J. Richard is the multimedia editor of State Magazine.