Jorge Fernandez started working for the Bexar County Elections Department in September as a technical support specialist. His wife, Ashley, gave birth to their daughter on Oct. 20, and he immediately took off what time he had accrued: about one and a half weeks.

“I used comp time that I had,” he said. “It’s paid time off that I get for overtime. If I work any extra hours, instead of it being overtime pay, they give us paid time off.”

What the county currently doesn’t give is paid parental leave. Without a policy, new parents are left to puzzle out how to secure time off to recover from childbirth and bond with a newborn while keeping their jobs and pay.

But things may be about to change. Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Pct. 3) tasked county staff to create a parental leave policy during a Commissioners Court meeting on Dec. 7 after learning there was none in place.

Bexar County is not the only public entity in town that does not have a paid parental leave policy. Local school districts do not, and a San Antonio Water System spokeperson said “leave is limited to sick leave and vacation leave.” CPS Energy gives its employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, though a spokesperson said in an email that the company was looking to create a parental leave policy in 2022.

The City of San Antonio offers six weeks of paid leave to new parents, an initiative that started in October 2016.

Fernandez is one of the 4,708 people currently employed full time by Bexar County. New parents can use time provided by the FMLA, but the time off is unpaid. They can also use accrued sick leave, vacation and holiday time (for those who work on holidays), according to spokesman Thomas Peine.

“That shouldn’t be incumbent upon an employee to be able to creatively figure out, ‘What kind of sick time do I need to accumulate to be able to take time off?’” DeBerry said.

As of Dec. 7, 87 county employees had requested FMLA time off for the birth of a child in 2021. In 2020, 124 people requested time off and gave birth or foster care as the reason. That number was somewhat higher pre-pandemic but remained relatively steady: 143 in 2019, 142 in 2018, and 147 in 2017.

County staff is considering a parental leave policy that would give parents eight weeks of paid time off in the event of a birth or adoption of a child, Assistant County Manager Tina Smith-Dean said. Mothers and fathers would be able to take advantage of this time.

Fernandez ultimately returned to work on Oct. 31, but his newborn daughter, Athena, was still in intensive care after some complications during birth. His wife, who has unpaid maternity leave through her job at Northside Independent School District, was able to continue spending time at the hospital watching over the baby.

When Athena went home on Nov. 5, Fernandez had to keep working full time at his job. Because he had recently started working for the county, he couldn’t use any vacation time yet, he explained.

He said he supports a proposed parental leave policy for the county, especially since it includes both parents.

“As a dad, we’ll maybe need as much as the mom would,” he said. “But definitely to know you have some time you’re going to get paid for that you’ll be with your newborn, it’ll be very helpful so you don’t have to rely on comp time like I did, or sick days, vacation, anything like that.”

County staff will gather employee feedback on a proposed policy, and will return to commissioners with that information in January.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.