Study finds ordinance has little effect on mothers taking parental leave

parent and baby
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According to researchers, parental leave benefits must be simplified and information about them needs to be more widely shared in order for parental leave to be more accessible, especially to lower-income families.

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A recent study including researchers from UC Berkeley’s School of Public Health found that a new San Francisco parental leave ordinance had little effect on mothers taking parental leave, especially in low-income families.

The study, published in July, also included researchers from Stanford University and Oregon Health and Science University-Portland State University, and looked at the effects of an ordinance passed by the city and county of San Francisco in January 2017 called the Paid Parental Leave Ordinance.

This ordinance expands on existing California law, which provides 55% pay for six weeks of parental leave. The city ordinance requires employers to supplement the rest of the pay for workers taking parental leave, according to researcher and UC Berkeley health economics professor William Dow.

The study collected data by surveying new Bay Area mothers and Bay Area employers, as well as conducting qualitative interviews, according to Dow.

The results show that the ordinance increased father uptake of parental leave by 13%, according to Julia Goodman, a study researcher and assistant professor at the Oregon Health and Science University-Portland State University School of Public Health. Despite this, it had a negligible impact on the percentage of mothers who took parental leave.

The low uptake of leave among mothers may be due to lack of understanding of the ordinance, according to the study. This lack of understanding is even more apparent with lower-income mothers — the study found less than 2% of these mothers had accurate information about the policy. Additionally, the ordinance excludes small employers, defined as a business employing fewer than 20 workers, according to Goodman.

Other reasons the study cites for low awareness of the program include the complexity of the enrollment rules, lack of integration between the new ordinance and the state’s existing parental leave policy, employers’ confusion in understanding and complying with the ordinance’s legal requirements, as well as employers’ failure to communicate the policy to employees.

Regardless, the study found employers generally supportive of the Paid Parental Leave Ordinance, with 82% of employers supporting the new ordinance.

According to both Dow and Goodman, parental leave benefits need to be simplified and expanded to better help low-income workers. The findings also help inform how a national parental leave system could work, according to the study’s summary.

Specifically, the researchers recommend unifying program enrollment through a single government agency based along geographic locations. The program would allow employers to file leave for their employees, and it would fund parental leave through a single tax-financed fund.

“Simpler, universal programs would be key to increasing parental leave, and hence to capturing the health benefits of leave,” Dow said in an email. “We are now looking at related forms of Paid Family Leave, building on our research to develop recommendations for federal paid leave programs.”

Contact Blake Evans at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Blake_J_Evans.