KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – Some companies around the country are starting to change policy for their pregnant workers, providing paid maternity leave as an incentive to get and keep good employees. You don’t hear about that a lot here in Knoxville, and there’s no law requesting it, but one city worker wants that to change.
She’s a Knoxville police officer who just gave birth to triplets. Now, she and her husband are trying to help other families like theirs in the future.
Patrol Officer Rachel Britt is in her third week back at work. These days, she has a new appreciation for the risks she takes and the people she helps while keeping watch over Knoxville’s western district.
She is also the proud mom of 13-week-old triplets; identical boys Jefferson and Whitman named for a president and a poet, and a little girl, Amelia, whose namesake was the famous pilot Amelia Earhart.
“My first day back on patrol, I got a child abuse call,” Britt said. “Making sure the child is safe, that was always a priority. but now it’s almost more of a maternal instinct of making sure they’re okay.”
Britt says she wanted to offer her babies the best start in life. Learning the city of Knoxville doesn’t offer paid maternity leave came as a shock.
“And so after I was already pregnant, knew it was triplets, I went and met with the city to sort of talk about my options and was told there was no maternity leave, which is why I went back to work after nine weeks,” said Britt.
She says she was not expecting to have to go back to work so soon.
“That was very stressful. That was something that I was not – I thought I would have a minimum of 12 weeks home with my kids. We tried for seven years to have them, so we finally get pregnant and I realize I’m not going to have hardly any time at home with them at all. So that was very stressful, that was very saddening, but we did what we had to do and so I’m back at work and I see them when I get home.”
Employment rights attorney Jesse Nelson says some businesses are starting to see the value in paying employees like Britt during maternity leave, even though under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, they don’t have to.
“There’s certainly no requirement out there that anyone be paid for maternity leave, especially in Tennessee. I can tell you that attitudes about that are changing, and some companies are beginning to use paid maternity or paternity leave as a recruiting tool or incentive to bring employees especially with super low unemployment and the need to attract and keep employees-that is something that is changing,” said Nelson.
Under FMLA, employees must use the available paid leave they’ve built up as part of their time away.
In Britt’s case, she cobbled together nine weeks worth of sick time, vacation time and overtime, and now says she has no more time off, and worries about emergencies at home.
“That’s all the leave I had saved. So now, if one of my kids is sick, I’m completely wiped out of sick and vacation time,” Britt said.
Her husband Keith says it’s not fair. He literally went to City Hall asking for change.
“I first started going to City Council and speaking at public forum. I got a very good reception from city council members. I had one-on-one conversations with them afterwards. I did the math for them to see what the projections for that would cost. It seemed very reasonable to me,” he said.
Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero spokesperson Eric Vreeland says the mayor “has had a discussion with Mr. Britt, and the City Benefits Office is looking at possible options, but it is premature for us to talk about any possible changes in benefits.”
The Britts know if city benefits were to change, allowing for paid maternity leave, it wouldn’t affect them, but it would help other families like theirs.
“You almost become attached to that issue because it affected you so personally,” Keith Britt said. “So I think we do get the personal satisfaction of knowing we made a difference.”
“For people in the future, I understand I’m not going to get any back time and that’s fine, I just don’t want anybody else to be faced with what we were faced with,” said Officer Britt.