New Marine Corps Leave Policy May Offer Tough Choice to Parents

The new Marine Corps family leave policy is retroactive to Dec. 23, 2016, which means that some recent parents may find themselves with more available leave. Also, unmarried parents now qualify for the same leave allowances as married couples. (US Marine Corps photo/Barry Edwards)
The new Marine Corps family leave policy is retroactive to Dec. 23, 2016, which means that some recent parents may find themselves with more available leave. Also, unmarried parents now qualify for the same leave allowances as married couples. (US Marine Corps photo/Barry Edwards)

A new Marine Corps family leave policy rolled out at the behest of Congress last week offers parents more flexibility in how they take leave after the birth or adoption of a child. It may also, however, leave some with difficult choices regarding which parent takes the bulk of allowed leave.

Under the new policy, rolled out in a Marine Corps administrative message June 12, leave is allotted to a designated "primary caregiver" and "secondary caregiver."

Where previously the Marine Corps paternity leave policy allowed up to 10 days of leave, the new policy permits the designated secondary caregiver 14 days off, to be taken within one year of the birth or adoption.

For the designated primary caregiver, leave may now be broken up. Mothers will still receive six weeks of maternity convalescent leave immediately following the birth of a baby. But while the previous policy allowed a lump 12 weeks of maternity leave, the new rules give six weeks of leave to the primary caregiver, to be taken any time within one year of adding a child to the family.

In another departure from the old policy, unmarried parents now qualify for the same leave allowances as married couples.

"Because the family situation varies from Marine to Marine, there is not a 'one size fits all' solution for every birth event or adoption scenario," Maj. Garron Garn, a spokesman for Marine Corps Manpower and Reserve Affairs, told Military.com. "Marines, in coordination with their chain of command, can establish a family care plan that meets their individual needs, personally and professionally."

Several Marine officials, however, acknowledged that the language in the new policy had spurred concerns that some military mothers may end up with less leave as a result of the change. While designation of the primary and secondary caregivers is left entirely up to the parents, and birth mothers will receive six weeks off no matter what, the policy may create incentives for mothers in uniform to designate themselves the secondary caregiver, and thus eligible for less leave.

In dual-military families, for example, designation of primary and secondary caregivers may be influenced by career requirements, upcoming orders, or the time demands of the parents' jobs, among other factors.

Garn acknowledged that some birth mothers could designate themselves secondary caregiver, but he maintained the policy would allow each set of parents to do what was right for them.

"While each situation is unique, the Marine Corps' caregiver policy is designed to give Marines the flexibility to determine the best family care plan scenario that meets their personal and professional needs," he said.

The Marine Corps changes come as all of the services reissue parental leave protocols in keeping with language in the 2017 defense budget designed to make these policies more flexible.

While some elements of the new policies are similar from service to service, the guidelines do vary slightly. The new Air Force parental leave policy, also rolled out this month, offers secondary caregivers up to three weeks off -- a change to which the Navy has also committed.

Garn said the Marine Corps settled on 14 days of leave for the secondary caregiver as the number that "balances the personal needs of the Marine and his/her family with the operation readiness requirements of the unit."

According to the new guidance, the policy is effective immediately and rules are retroactive to December 23, 2016, meaning some recent parents may find themselves with new available leave as a result of the change.

-- Hope Hodge Seck can be reached at hope.seck@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @HopeSeck.

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