Family Is Priority At The White House, As President Obama Ensures Parent Employees Spend Time With Their Children
President Barack Obama may very well be the first president to place his focus not just on his own family but on those working with him in the West Wing. Parental leave was doubled for staffers in January, and it looks like Obama is making family a priority for the White House. West Wing staffers now have up to 12 weeks of maternity leave. Likewise, working from home has finally become an option thanks to highly secure laptops. Although childcare is still one of the more difficult benefits to fully provide, the White House does offer emergency services in case staffers are unable to find childcare for a particular day.
These moves come at a time when many working in the West Wing are expecting children or have just welcomed a child. Legislative Director Katie Beirne Fallon recently gave birth to twins, and Communications Director Jennifer Psaki is due in July. In fact, Psaki thought that her pregnancy would cut her West Wing career short. Psaki told the Associated Press, "My immediate instinct in my head was to tell him I'm pregnant and this will be the end of this. He'll tell me good luck and be very kind about it and I'll be on my merry way."
Instead, Obama has been more than willing to accommodate Psaki's needs as well as that of other staffers with infants and toddlers. Press Secretary Josh Earnest, Foreign Policy Spokesman Ben Rhodes, and Senior Communications Advisor Tara McGuinness all have young children, most less than a year old. They've all seen a culture that celebrates family time thanks to Obama leading by example. According to Politico, despite Obama's busy schedule he always makes time for a family dinner with his wife and two daughters at 6:30 p.m. each night.
Obama's goals to make the White House a more family-friendly place to work directly reflect the Department of Labor's "Lead on Leave" campaign to establish paid family leave throughout the country. Although Obama's efforts have been widely praised in the West Wing, little has been done in Congress to change federal employees' family leave time. Federal employees still have just six weeks of paid leave. There is still no nationwide policy in place for maternity leave in the private sector. The Department of Labor and Obama seek to change that.
The president has not only been looking to modernize the country's leave policy for years but is also now looking to expand sick leave as well. Obama has been pushing the passing of the Healthy Families Act, which would allow for up to seven full days of paid sick leave nationwide. According to the president's senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, that attitude most certainly extends to the White House. Speaking about staffers faced with the tough decision of going to work or caring for a child that's fallen ill, Jarrett told Politico, "The environment here is, if you don’t take the time, we kind of look at you like, why aren’t you home with your family?"
Additional potential policies to lessen the work-family divide include holding conference calls rather than meetings so West Wing parents can have more time at home as well as allowing for an hour and a half break between 6:30 p.m. and 8 p.m. for staffers to have dinner with their families.
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