The disconnect between Amy Klobuchar’s parental leave policy and her public platform

The highly-popular senator and presidential hopeful has been accused of running a volatile, aggressive, and pressure-filled office.
The highly-popular senator and presidential hopeful has been accused of running a volatile, aggressive, and pressure-filled office.
Image: REUTERS/Eric Miller
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There are a lot of noteworthy allegations (paywall) in the New York Times’ new exposé exploring how presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar treats her staff. For instance, the Minnesota senator purportedly ate her salad with a comb and threw binders in the direction of employees in frustration. But perhaps the most surprising revelation is that her office’s parental leave policy is at odds not just with the typical standards of Capitol Hill, but also with her stated beliefs of the importance of paid family leave.

“I support providing paid sick days and paid family and medical leave at the federal level so no one has to sacrifice a paycheck for the birth of a child, to care for an elderly parent, or to get treatment for a serious health condition,” Klobuchar says on her Senate website. When senator Tammy Duckworth proposed a resolution to allow newborn babies (including her own) onto the Senate floor in April 2018, Klobuchar gave a speech in support of the resolution in which she said:

“It’s wrong that America is the only industrialized country without a law that requires paid maternity leave and it is wrong that only 10% of American employers offer workers full pay during parental leave. The lack of parental leave coupled with cost of child care has a profound impact on our economy and on our society and it’s one of the reasons I believe why there are not enough women in power. We must do better.”

And yet, according to The Times, senator Klobuchar’s office policy on paid parental leave comes with strings attached. Staffers allege that employees who took paid leave after the birth of a child “were effectively required, once they returned, to remain with the office for three times as many weeks as they had been gone.” In addition, Klobuchar’s employee handbook allegedly said that staffers who didn’t follow the rule and left early would be required to “pay back money earned during the weeks they were on leave.” Such policies, which would seem to discourage staffers from taking full advantage of leave, do not seem in keeping with the senator’s public statements.

In response to questions from the Times, Klobuchar’s office said that their office offers 12 weeks of paid leave, and that they would be revising the policy. “We’ve never made staff pay back any of their leave and will be changing that language in the handbook,” said spokeswoman Elana Ross.

Paid leave has been shown to have important benefits for both newborns and parents. The first few months of life are crucial for a baby’s emotional, physical, and cognitive development, and regular interactions with a supportive caregiver, known as “serve-and-return,” build the foundation for that baby’s healthy development. It’s good for parents, too, helping them bond with their child and reducing the risk of maternal and paternal depression. And it’s especially good for moms, making it more likely that they will return to the workplace (paywall). According to The Minnesota Star Tribune, a 2015 white paper produced by the Minnesota Health Department found that “paid family leave improves a mother’s post-birth mental and physical health, increases the rate of breast-feeding and lowers rates of infant mortality.” Perhaps they can send their senator a copy.