Louisiana adopts paid family leave for 70,000 state workers

By: - November 9, 2023 12:03 pm
John Bel Edwards

Gov. John Bel Edwards signs paperwork to implement a new paid parental leave policy for 70,000 state workers Thursday (Nov. 9, 2023). (Photo by Julie O’Donoghue/Louisiana Illuminator)

Starting Jan. 1, 70,000 Louisiana state workers will have access to six weeks of paid parental leave following a birth, adoption or foster child placement with their family. 

Gov. John Bel Edwards signed paperwork Thursday at Woman’s Hospital extending the new paid leave benefit to most classified and unclassified state government employees.

“This is another pro-life thing to do for children and families,” Edwards said at a press conference held outside the hospital. 

State employees will have to work for the government for at least a year to access the benefit. The leave needs to be taken within the first three months of becoming a new parent, and it applies to all genders. 

Currently, state employees have to use sick or vacation days if they want to take parental leave, though the federal government requires the state to offer at least 12 weeks of unpaid time off to new parents.

The latest benefit also doesn’t apply to every state worker.

People who work for the Louisiana Legislature, state courts and unclassified workers in higher education, including faculty, will not have access to paid family leave. The governor and state Civil Service Commission do not have the authority to extend the benefit to those offshoots of government.

It’s also unclear how much the new family leave policy might cost the state.

“The anticipated fiscal impact is difficult to determine due to the cost depending solely on factors such as birth, foster care or adoption that we cannot predict,” Byron Decoteau, state Civil Service director, wrote in an email Thursday. “We have been very transparent about the inability to determine an exact figure.”

The good will outweigh the bad however, Decoteau said. Any expense from paid parental leave is likely to be less than the current cost of turnover in state government jobs. Paid parental leave should help alleviate the churn in the public workforce.

“A person who has access to paid family leave is more likely to join the workforce again,” he said.

Gov.-elect Jeff Landry will have the option to undo part of the family leave policy shortly after it takes effect. Landry will be sworn into office Jan. 8, just seven days after the new parental leave policy is implemented.

A spokesperson for Landry declined to comment Thursday on whether the Republican would keep paid parental leave in place. Edwards, a Democrat, said he didn’t talk to Landry about the new policy ahead of time. 

The governor enacted the portion of the parental leave benefits that applies to unclassified state workers through an executive order, an action Landry could immediately reverse once he becomes governor.

The parental leave policy that applies to classified employees would be harder for Landry to unwind. The state Civil Service Commission, which just approved this new paid leave benefit in September, have to agree to undo it.

“Certainly we would hope the next administration would support this [new parental leave policy],” Decoteau said.

Unclassified workers are at-will state workers who can be terminated without cause. They generally include people who fill political appointments and policy positions.

Classified positions tend to be more rank-and-file employees, those who stay on in state government regardless of changes in political leadership.

A handful of Republican legislators expressed frustration that Edwards would adopt paid parental leave right before he leaves office without giving lawmakers a chance to review its fiscal and operational impact first.

“He had eight years to do this, and he did it in the last 60 days,” said Rep. Jack McFarland, R-Jonesboro, who is running for Louisiana House speaker.

Still, McFarland and three other candidates for speaker said they will consider adopting a similar benefit for their legislative employees if they are picked for statehouse leadership.

Reps. Phillip DeVillier of Eunice, Tony Bacala of Prairieville and Daryl Deshotel of Marksville — all Republicans — said paid parental leave may be needed for the legislature to retain high-quality staff.

“We value our great employees … and we need the experience that our long-term employees bring to us,” Bacala said, “so we should offer that opportunity for our House legislative employees.”

Previously, paid parental leave has not generated much enthusiasm among lawmakers.

“This has always been a very heavy lift for a Deep South state,” said Shreveport Rep. Sam Jenkins, the outgoing Louisiana House Democratic Caucus chairman who has advocated for paid parental leave for years.

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Julie O'Donoghue
Julie O'Donoghue

Julie O’Donoghue is a senior reporter for the Louisiana Illuminator. She’s received awards from the Virginia Press Association and Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press.