Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

Laurel Park becomes first local government to offer paid family leave

LAUREL PARK — Local government employees in North Carolina are entitled to take up to 12 weeks off for a family emergency or to take care of a newborn but no local government in Henderson County had offered employees paid leave.

That changed last week when the Laurel Park Town Board voted to grant six weeks of paid leave for eligible family-related needs or military service. The inspiration for the change came from Kristin Dunn, the town board's newest, and youngest, member. For Dunn, the idea percolated to the surface when she read that the state of North Carolina had approved paid family leave for state employees. In May 2019, Gov. Roy Cooper signed an executive order granting eight weeks of paid leave for cabinet agency employees to care for a newborn and four weeks of leave to bond with a newly adopted or fostered child.

"When I saw that, I wanted to ensure that Laurel Park was not going to lose good qualified people moving to different government positions," she said. "This national conversation has been happening for at least three years now. If you think about it, folks are not going to feel awkward going to their supervisor and utilizing two weeks of vacation time. However, if they know they need to get a knee replaced, they're going to be out and they're not going to be able to do their work if it's physical labor. That is a national conversation I wanted to bring to my community. It wasn't just for women having babies. If you have a father who's going into hospice, you should have paid job protection."

Town Manager Christopher Todd credited Dunn with doing most of the research on the subject over the past year or so. The projected expense is relatively low.

"We do not expect it to be a great deal of additional cost," Todd said. "We do expect it potentially to be between four and eight thousand dollars a year in additional personnel cost and that's assuming that it's needed on an annual basis. Typically in Laurel Park, we have one or less FMLA request per year."

Dunn said that in most cases, the town would not bring on extra workers to fill in if an employee is out for six weeks. The police department would likely be the exception, when reserve officers might be needed.

"It's a continuation of a paycheck that was already budgeted last year," she said. "You already planned to give that person 52 weeks of pay and you are choosing the family emergency to continue that pay for that employee and that is what I am remarkably proud of."

A check of other towns found no similar benefit.

"We were not able to find anybody in the county as part of our research," Todd said.

Adopted in 1993, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to bond with a newborn, adopted or foster child, recover from a serious health condition or care for a spouse, child or parent who is seriously ill, or for military training and service.

Comments by town board members revolved around the town's desire to support its employees, Todd said.

"This is definitely seen as a benefit to help protect and take care of our employees in some of their biggest times of need in their lives," Todd said.

When national conversation arrived, "the Town on a Mountain" stepped up to support its employees.

"I am very proud to say that Laurel Park is leading the charge in local government offering this," Dunn said.