Navy to increase paid leave for new dads, other secondary caregivers

Editor’s note:  A previous version of this story, based on publicly-released remarks by the chief of naval personnel, reported that an expansion of the Navy’s paternity leave policy would likely take place in February and that the new allowance would be 21 days. A Navy spokeswoman later clarified Vice Adm. Burke’s comments, saying that the changes he described are still subject to ongoing negotiations within the Pentagon, and that the timeframe for any alterations to current policy is yet to be determined.

The Navy anticipates that it will implement a significant expansion of its paternity leave policies later this year, extending the amount of paid time off it grants to sailors whose spouses have just given birth from  the current 10 days to as many as 21.

The changes could take effect as soon as next month, Vice Adm. Robert Burke, the Navy’s top personnel official, told a gathering of sailors and family members in Yokosuka, Japan on Tuesday. He said the new three-week allowance would also apply to adoptions, and in some cases, to service members in domestic partnerships where they are not the birth parent of the new child.

“It will apply to legal custodian parents as well as marriage parents, just to kind of reflect where we are in modern society,” said Burke, the chief of naval personnel, who described the policy as an element of a broader series of policy reforms the Navy has been implementing via an initiative called Sailor 2025. “It’s tough to start a family and raise a family while we make deployments, so the first thing we need to do is remove unnecessary obstacles between starting that family and having that Navy career, and we’ve been working hard on those.”

The new parental leave policies would follow a change to federal law Congress made as part of the 2017 Defense authorization bill. In it, lawmakers authorized the secretary of Defense to allow up to 21 days of leave for “secondary caregivers,” but did not require it.

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As part of internal Pentagon negotiations, the Navy is advocating for the 21-day maximum allowed by the legislation. But Amy Derrick, a spokewoman for Burke, later clarified his comments, emphasizing that no final decision has been made.

“The Navy is awaiting (Office of the Secretary of Defense) guidance that implements primary and secondary caregiver leave as directed by the National Defense Authorization Act of 2017,” she said. “Once OSD and Department of Navy guidance is released, Navy will release a message with the new leave categories and rules (i.e. leave dates authorized), to include any guidance on retroactive entitlements.”

Indeed, the new statutory authority would require an explicit revision of DoD regulations. As of this week, the relevant DoD instruction still limits paternity and adoption leave to 10 days, a policy first instituted in 2009.

In 2015, the Navy was also the first military service to undertake a significant expansion of maternity leave. Female sailors and Marines were granted 18 weeks after giving birth to a new child, a tripling of the six-week standard that prevailed in each branch of the services at the time. But the change was scaled back a year later by then-Defense Secretary Ash Carter, who ordered a military-wide maternity leave policy of 12 weeks.

Some lawmakers have also been pressing to institute paid parental leave to civilian employees of the federal government, but so far, without much success. Although current laws allow those workers to take up to 12 weeks away from their jobs after the birth of a child, the time is unpaid.