State News

Detroit-area legislator, starting baby leave, blasts 'cultural barriers and outdated workplace norms'

July 10, 2022, 5:54 PM

"This issue is personal," state Rep. Ranjeev Puri, D-Canton, says of paid workplace leaves for new dads. 

The freshman lawmaker "will be taking paternity leave from the Michigan House" because his third son was born July 1, he adds on social media. He steps aside for an undisclosed time even though "there is no actual parental leave policy for state legislators."

Ranjeev Puri knows that staying home is "an immense privilege." (Photos: Facebook)

The western Wayne representative is married to Nidhi Puri, owner of a construction services and management business in Ann Arbor. The 37-year-old parents' newborn, who isn't named in the post, has brothers who are 6 and 3. 

Alongside this photo at right, Puri reflects on a public policy issue that arises amid his second-term campaign. "I recognize that so many new parents are not afforded the opportunity to be home with their newborn child," he says on Facebook and Twitter. "It is an immense privilege this position as ... state representative has given me and my family."

This wide-impact topic affects countless families, so the suburban legislator's message to constituents and followers is shared nearly in full below. Its writer, whose full first name is Ranjeevpal, was born near Milwaukee to parents who imigrated from Amritsar, India, in the early 1970s. 

Time to toss 'cultural barriers and outdated
workplace norms about male breadwinners'

By Ranjeev Puri

My wife and I are overjoyed to welcome the newest addition to our family.

As we know, the first few weeks and months of a child's life are some of the most wonderful, but they're also some of the most important to a child's development. For many reasons -- but especially to be able to bond with my son, to allow for both the emotional and physical support of my wife, and to enjoy these special moments -- I will be taking paternity leave from the Michigan House of Representatives.

Paternity leave isn't talked about much and it's also not taken as frequently by men in the workplace.

Stigma, cultural barriers and outdated workplace norms about male breadwinners have all contributed to many fathers not taking leave, or ending their leave early and returning to work. But allowing new fathers to take paternity leave – especially longer leaves – can lead to better outcomes for their children, spouses and the whole family.

We know that paid family leave gives children a healthy start, reduces financial strain and keeps parents in the workforce.

This issue is personal to me. Prior to joining the Michigan Legislature, I worked in the Detroit automotive industry [at Fiat Chrysler from 2014-20]  for the birth of my first two children. As a new father, the policy of my employer at the time provided me no family or paternity leave.

'We must break stigmas'

In 2016, as a first-time parent, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had a manager let me take a "couple days" to have some time. Not knowing any better, I was happy for the opportunity. I quickly learned why this was not nearly enough.

Then in 2019, upon the arrival of my second child, the policies of my employer had not improved.

Modernizing our maternity and paternity leave policies is important for many reasons, but also crucial for Michigan's future economy to attract and retain a talented workforce for the jobs of tomorrow. We must break stigmas and cultural norms to be better on this issue.

New parents, both mothers and fathers, are often overcome with tremendous joy and excitement, and in this critical developmental stage of a young child's life, it is important that all primary caregivers can focus on what is most important, which is ensuring the new addition is safe and healthy.

The United States has a paid family and medical leave problem. The U.S. is one of only a handful of countries in the world that doesn't require paid parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandates workplaces with 50 workers or more provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for some employees.

Unfortunately, most states don't require employers to offer paid parental leave, including Michigan.

Hardship and discrimination

Many parents cannot afford to take any unpaid time off work. Currently in the U.S., about one in five women are back at work within two weeks after having given birth because they don't have access to paid family and medical leave.

Everyone, regardless of gender, should be able to take time away from their jobs to carefor their families without facing financial hardship or workplace discrimination. As your state representative, as a father, I hope that taking paternity leave helps show that I will continue to lead by example. I will advocate for working families, and hope that continuing the conversation not only helps reduce the stigma but that the fight results in policies that allow every single person access to paid parental leave.

Ranjeev and Nidhi Puri late last month

So what does parental leave look like for a state representative?

Michigan started offering paid parental leave to state workers in the fall of 2020. They get up to 12 weeks at full pay after the birth or adoption of a child. As an elected official, and not technically an employee of the state, our pay is written into the state constitution and we do not qualify for parental leave.

In Michigan, there is no actual parental leave policy for state legislators. It is also worth noting that there is also no system in place for proxy or remote voting.

The arrival of our son comes as the Legislature recently finalized the Fiscal Year 2023 budget and entered summer recess. This means that I likely will not miss many votes, if any at all, while on leave. With this said, it is important that all my constituents know that while I am home with my family and newborn son, my office will remain fully operational in assisting constituents with their needs.

... I recognize that so many new parents are not afforded the opportunity to be home with their newborn child. It is an immense privilege this position as your state representative has given me and my family.

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