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NFL expands paid family leave to 16 weeks

The National Football League promotes a tough sport, but it's taking steps to make life a little less bruising for the organization's employees. 

Under a new policy, the roughly 1,000 workers who staff NFL offices in Los Angeles, New Jersey and New York may now take up to 16 weeks of paid time to welcome a new family member. That's up from previous leave of four weeks, with both parents eligible regardless of gender, and applies to births, adoptions and taking on foster children. Employees also get up to two paid weeks a year to care for seriously ill family members, according to the new policy, which took effect in mid-July.  

"We're always evaluating and evolving our policies to help our employees perform at their best," Tara Wood, head of employee relations at the NFL, said of the expanded benefits. 

Employees previously could take time off and their job would be protected, but they no longer have to cobble together vacation days and sick leave to avoid a financial hit. There is "peace of mind to know you're getting paid and not having to compromise your vacation time," Wood said.

By contrast, NFL teams typically don't grant their players paid leave for a child's birth. That's unlike Major League Baseball, which lets players take up to three days. 

"In baseball, it's now accepted that every now and then a player goes on the paternity list, as opposed to four or five years ago," said Scott Behson, a professor of management at Fairleigh Dickinson University and author of the "The Working Dad's Survival Guide: How to Succeed at Work and at Home."

One high-profile case had former NFL quarterback and sports analyst Boomer Esiason apologizing after criticizing New York Mets second baseman David Murphy for leaving his team to be with his wife when she gave birth to their first child. And that was in 2014, three years after MLB began offering its players paternity leave. 

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Baseball's policy allows teams to bring another player onto the roster while a squad member is out on leave. That takes pressure off players who otherwise were left feeling as though they were letting their team and fans down, Behson said. 

Still, the shift in mentality for baseball players who take paternity leave has yet to emerge in pro football, Behson believes. "It would be a big deal if it happened in football," he said. "If a key player misses a game and they lose it and don't make the playoffs, that could be a very controversial situation very quickly."

Still, the idea has at least been floated among NFL teams. "We have shared these enhanced policies with our 32 HR team representatives at best-practice sharing meetings," Wood said. "They are aware of it."

Offering parents guaranteed paid leave is gaining traction in other quarters. Sen. Bill Cassidy, R.-Louisiana, and Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D.-Arizona in July proposed a change in the federal tax code to give new parents financial help in taking time from work. And Puerto Rico in March extended paid leave for city workers to six months for new mothers and 20 days for new dads. 

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