Gallatin County Courthouse File

The Gallatin County Courthouse is shown in this Chronicle file photo.

The Gallatin County Commission unanimously approved a paid parental leave policy on Tuesday to improve recruitment and retention of its 515 full- and part-time employees.

The new policy offers six weeks of paid parental leave for new parents. The policy applies to employees who have worked for the county for at least six months and gave birth or adopted a child on or after Jan. 1.

The option to take the leave expires six months after the birth or adoption of a child. If an employee leaves within three months of taking the paid parental leave, they must reimburse the county for the health benefits paid during their leave.

“I hope that our being able to implement this and have success with it will encourage other employers to adopt similar policies,” said commissioner Scott MacFarlane. “One of the most exciting things for me is that we can be a leader in our community and show it’s important to think about how we treat our employees.”

The county’s recruit and retain committee, a group of employees that works to improve the county’s personnel policies, developed the paid parental leave policy.

Sean O’Callaghan, planning department director and a committee member, said the policy will help the county hire and keep the high-quality employees that it works hard to train.

“We’re in a really challenging environment for recruiting employees right now,” he said. “We need to do everything we reasonably can to bring in and retain those employees.”

Torie Haraldson, a water quality tech specialist for the Gallatin Local Water Quality District and a committee member, said in a news release that the group created the paid parental leave policy to give parents time for family bonding and to help employees strike a work-life balance.

“I know from experience that it’s really hard to come back to work 12 weeks after giving birth with no sick or vacation leave left and a new baby in child care and feel like you’re doing your best as a parent or an employee,” she said.

Gallatin County is one of the first major employers in the area to offer paid parental leave to its employees. The city of Bozeman and the Bozeman School District don’t provide paid time off specifically for the birth or adoption of a child. Bozeman Health, one of the largest employers in the area, also doesn’t have a formal paid parental leave policy.

The commissioners said they are proud to be at the forefront of paid parental leave policies.

“We’re taking a chance and adopting this,” said commissioner Joe Skinner. “I think it will do well for us and our employees.”

Missoula County enacted a similar policy in 2016.

Montana is not among the handful of states that have laws requiring paid parental leave. Among the states that have paid parental leave requirements, leave periods ranged from about four to 12 weeks, according to the Congressional Research Service.

Many Montana state employees are allowed to take about six weeks of unpaid maternity leave and can use their accrued paid time off to receive compensation for some or all of that time. Fathers and adopting parents can take up to 15 days of leave as unpaid time or can use accrued paid time off. Montana State University has a similar policy.

The federal Family Medical Leave Act also provides a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave for many employees in the United States.

In December, President Donald Trump signed into law a bill as part of the National Defense Authorization Act that provides federal employees with up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave after the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child. The new law takes effect in October.

Perrin Stein can be reached at pstein@dailychronicle.com or at 582-2648.

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