Public employees at two of Orange County’s largest cities can now take paid parental leave.

It comes as part of new labor contracts approved this and last year by city council members in Santa Ana and Irvine.

That makes them the first public agencies in the county to approve the workplace accommodation, according to labor leaders and city officials.

Studies have linked paid parental leave to reduced infant mortality and postpartum depression among mothers.

But if you ask city leaders:

“It was just one of these things that, if we really believe what we say, we’re going to offer it, because we do value our people,” said Irvine City Manager Oliver Chi in a phone interview, adding, “there’s really no bigger life change than welcoming someone into your family.”

“If we take care of our people, our people will take care of the community,” Chi said.

Irvine City Council members approved the policy in November, terming it “parenthood leave” in the labor agreement with pay for up to 160 hours per year “upon presentation of evidence to his/her department director of the birth or adoption of the employee’s child or children.

The leave would have to be taken within a year of the birth or adoption of a child.

“And if there are any additional issues or situations, we can extend the leave of absence that’s unpaid for up to 180 calendar days or six months, during which time folks can use their accrued leave,” Chi said. “That’s on top of the paid leave that we do.”

In June and July, Santa Ana City Council members approved paid parental leave provisions in contracts with labor groups representing higher-ups and their assistants.

Whereas Irvine’s parental leave agreement applies to about 1,400 full time employees, the agreement in Santa Ana largely applies to City Hall management, about 100 staffers total.

Though Santa Ana provides for a longer paid absence, up to eight weeks.

To be eligible, a worker must have logged 12 months of full time employment at Santa Ana City Hall.

In Irvine, the provision applies to employees regardless of how much time they’ve worked there.

“There was some discussion about having folks work a certain amount of time before they qualify,” said Chi of his city’s labor negotiations. 

“But the reality is, if there is this life event, and if we thought enough of the person that we want them hired, irrespective of how long they’ve been with us, that should be extended to all employees, no matter how long they’ve worked for the city,” Chi said.

The leader of Orange County’s largest public sector employee union hopes the idea will take off.

“We hope that many other public sector employers across Orange County follow suit,” said Charles Barfield, general manager of the OC Employees Association. “This can make a significant difference when an employer is recruiting for talent.”

Brandon Pho is a Voice of OC reporter. Contact him at or on Twitter @brandonphooo.


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