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Parental Leave: Texas Has Dismal Protections for New Parents

Right here in the middle between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day is a good time to point out that our state has no specific laws regarding parental leave. Mothers and fathers are almost completely at the whim of their employers.

Parents aren’t completely without protection. Texas adheres to the federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). That means that under Title VII employees are protected from being fired or otherwise discriminated against for becoming pregnant or giving birth. However, this doesn’t guarantee someone will be paid for taking time off, and in practical terms, a company might find another excuse to fire someone. It is also worth noting that businesses that have fewer than 15 employees are not covered by this according to Texas Workforce Commission. The PDA also mandates that if a company offers leave for other medical conditions, it must offer the same leave for those who are pregnant.

The FMLA guarantees twelve weeks of leave for pregnancy, but none for romantic partners. This leave is unpaid, though, and like the PDA does not cover every employer. A business must have at least fifty employees all working within a seventy-five-mile radius and the employee must have worked for the company for at least 1,250 hours. Anything else is at the discretion of the business.

Obviously, employers who want to have the best staff will go above and beyond.

The largest employer in Texas is Pizza Hut, with 300,000 employees. A subsidiary of the Yum! Brands company, expanded parental leave benefits in 2017. Birthing parents are given 18 months of paid leave, including six weeks of “baby bonding” time. Partners also receive the six weeks after birth to spend time with their new baby. Unfortunately, this policy was only implemented for corporate employees, not store employees. Their 2020 handbook only guarantees basic FMLA benefits.

AT&T is the second-largest employer in the state with 273,000 employees. They made the Fortune Best Big Companies to Work For list in 2019, partially on the strength of their benefits. Among those is eight weeks of paid parental leave for both the birthing parent and their partner. Unpaid leave is also available for adoptions. However, like Pizza Hut employees you see at their stores will not necessarily reap the benefits of the policy. It only applies to management positions according to the note they sent employees in 2016.

The fact is that while many large companies do have generous benefits packages for new parents, the people lowest on the corporate ladder rarely get the same consideration. Pizza drivers and the people helping you pick out your new iPhone are stuck with the bare legal minimum, which in general means simply that they cannot be fired having a baby and will not be paid when they are not at work. Other large Texas companies with public-facing staff such as J.C. Penny offer only accrued paid time off for expectant parents to use, meaning that vacation days and time spent with a new baby come out of the same pull of available leave.

Due to the restriction in the FMLA, a full 61 percent of working Texans are ineligible even for the guaranteed unpaid leave provided for in the law according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. Nearly 2.5 million Texans work in frontline positions, which as shown above are often left out of corporate benefits that management enjoys. The NPWF has been pushing hard for a national bill that would better protect Texas workers starting families since 2013, but thus far it has failed to ever pass. No similar act was considered in the past legislative session either. Here in Texas, new parents have very few resources protected by law.

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.


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