The city is considering creating a paid leave program for seasonal and part-time employees, including OSMP trail workers. Credit: John Herrick

City of Boulder officials are proposing to give seasonal and part-time city workers paid time off for family and personal emergencies for the first time.

If approved by the Boulder City Council later this summer, the proposed paid leave plan would offer some level of income replacement for time off related to a “serious injury or illness of an employee or qualified family member,” according to a city staff memo. The amount of time off — up to 12 weeks — would be determined based on hours worked. 

During a Boulder City Council on Thursday, May 25, councilmembers were largely supportive of the paid leave proposal. A final decision is expected before they pass the 2024 budget later this summer. 

“I’m proud that we’re taking this step to plug this gap in our benefit system,” Mayor Aaron Brockett said. 

The plan would provide additional time off for the city’s approximate 700 seasonal and part-time employees, who have a sick leave cap of 48 hours and do not receive any paid vacation or holiday time, according to the city’s benefits guide. Those workers include lifeguards and swim instructors, trailworkers who maintain city open space, materials handlers who stock the shelves at the public libraries, and landscapers who upkeep the city’s parks, among others. 

By comparison, the city’s full-time employees can accrue sick leave “without limit” and receive partial wage replacement under the city’s disability programs for medical emergencies. They also receive paid holiday and vacation time. 

The proposed program comes after the Boulder City Council in November 2022 voted to opt out of the state-run Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) program, a voter-approved safety net that provides 12 weeks of paid leave starting Jan. 1, 2024. 

The law allows local governments to opt out of the insurance program. Most local governments have opted out, according to state data, including the Boulder Valley School District and Boulder County. (Others, such as the City of Salida, opted into the program, in part to help retain and recruit employees, according to a story by the Colorado Sun.) 

The decision by the Boulder City Council to opt out of FAMLI was based on a recommendation by city officials. Officials said full-time employees already qualified for time off and some may end up paying premiums for an insurance program they do not use. 

The FAMLI insurance would cost $1.37 million, according to a staff analysis. The money would likely be split between the city’s taxpayers and workers through a paycheck deduction. 

City officials estimate the cost of providing a city-run alternative paid leave program would cost $200,000 to $250,000, assuming about 10% of seasonal or temporary employees would use it. Who would pay for the benefit and what it would cover remains to be determined. Part-time and seasonal workers could accrue 12 weeks of time off by working a certain amount. 

By comparison, the FAMLI program would provide 12 weeks of paid time off to all city employees after they earn $2,500 while paying premiums. They could receive up to 90% of their pay during that time off for a wide range of emergencies. This includes “safe leave” for victims of domestic violence, stalking, sexual assault or abuse. 

Some councilmembers said they would like a more detailed comparison between the state-run paid family leave program and the proposed city-run alternative. 

“I don’t really want to end up in a place where maybe it’s 10 years down the road and we’re just starting to think about FAMLI,” Councilmember Nicole Speer said. “I would still just like to know what does it mean to be a part of FAMLI versus not.”

John Herrick is a reporter for Boulder Reporting Lab, covering housing, transportation, policing and local government. He previously covered the state Capitol for The Colorado Independent and environmental policy for Email:

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