On Thursday, the Navy finally released its formal policy memo outlining new parental leave benefits built into a federal law that went into effect at the beginning of the month.
The memo details how sailors can make use of increased time off, while also giving the Marine Corps the green light to provide guidance to its service members. Soldiers, however, are still waiting for the Army to release its own memo that would set up its expanded parental leave program.
According to an administrative message to the force, the new Navy policy will allow sailors who gave birth, adopted or accepted a long-term foster child to take 12 weeks of parental leave in addition to the usual six weeks of convalescent leave for those who gave birth.
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It's an expansion of the prior policy, which gave new moms the same six weeks of convalescent leave for giving birth or adopting and six weeks of parental leave. Those who took in a foster child were not eligible.
Additionally, the new policy now gives 12 weeks of parental leave to the parent who did not give birth or is not considered the primary caregiver.
"Navy family members are an integral part of our Navy Force, and the parental leave policy updates provide needed time for our Navy families to bond," the Navy's chief of personnel, Vice Adm. Rick Cheeseman, said in a press release. "This is the right thing to do for our Sailors, and it brings the Navy in line with or ahead of many civilian workplaces."
The expanded benefits were mandated by Congress in December as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act. However, despite assurances from Pentagon officials that the overall policy would be in place by Jan. 1, 2023, when the legislation required the expanded benefits be available, a requirement for each service to publish its own rules led to uncertainty for many of those currently serving and their families.
The Pentagon eventually put out its memo Jan. 4, and a spokesman cited the holidays as the reason for the delay. The Air Force was the first to let its airmen and Space Force Guardians take the new leave when it published its policy the next day on Jan. 5. The Coast Guard followed suit the same day.
However, the Navy, Marines and Army continued on without their own policies for weeks.
Several spouses and service members spoke with Military.com and described a chaotic and stressful situation that was brought about by the delayed rollout.
The frustration from sailors was evident on social media as they asked for updates from officials on sites like Facebook and Reddit. On Wednesday, Cheeseman himself seemed to be replying to comments on Facebook, assuring sailors that a policy was coming soon.
Meanwhile the Army, the Pentagon's largest service branch, still hasn't released its own parental leave policy. The delay comes after a year of major efforts to boost quality of life for parents, including making it easier for women to pump breast milk while on duty, providing at least 42 days of leave time for parents if they suffer a miscarriage, and a child care pilot for Guardsmen.
Four Army sources with direct knowledge of the ongoing efforts told Military.com that the policy will effectively reiterate the 12-week leave program prescribed by the Pentagon and adopted by other services and will be released "within days."
The wonky process of finalizing that policy includes assuring it doesn't have any unintended effect on, or create conflict with, any existing rules and that internal leave request processes include the parental leave option. It's unclear whether the service's newly released human resources system, the Integrated Personnel and Pay System-Army, or IPPS-A, has delayed the process.
Military.com asked the Navy on Wednesday to provide insight into why its policy had been delayed, but a spokeswoman declined to provide more information.
The Navy's delay had an impact on the Marine Corps as well. On Jan. 13, Maj. Jordan Cochran told Military.com that the Corps was waiting for the Navy policy to come out so that it could "finalize and publish implementing guidance."
The new policy allows sailors to take their 12 weeks of leave either in one large block or in weekly increments. However, it must be done within a year of the birth, adoption or placement.
The Navy's press release also noted that deployed sailors or those within three months of deploying will normally have "to defer some or all parental leave until the deployment concludes" -- though commanders can still let them go "if they determine command readiness will not be adversely impacted." Plus, commanders can extend the one-year rule in the event of a deployment.
The policy notes that being on parental leave is not an excuse for the "non-birth parent" to miss a physical fitness assessment, though it does also allow parents on leave to ask for a substitute advancement exam if the time off causes them to miss the regular test date.
"No member will be disadvantaged in their career, including limitations in their assignments … performance appraisals, or selection for professional military education or training, solely
because they take any of the non-chargeable leave outlined herein," the policy noted.
-- Konstantin Toropin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ktoropin.
-- Steve Beynon can be reached at Steve.Beynon@military.com. Follow him on Twitter @StevenBeynon.
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