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“It meant a lot to me,” Oklahoma company implements fully paid maternity leave policy

NORMAN, Okla. - Baby Vera joined the world six weeks ago.

Her mother, Kim Nichols, says she was preparing to head back to work from maternity leave when she got a call from her employer, Nextep.

"She had called me and said, 'I've got some good news for you,' and I was in shock," said Nichols.

Nextep rolled out a new parental leave policy that allows the primary caregiver to take 12 weeks of full paid time off.

"It meant I was going to get more time with my new son. Emotionally, it meant a lot to me," Brady Easter, an employee for Nextep, said.

Brady Easter and his wife are expecting their second child this week.

"A lot of times it's assumed that if you're not the primary caregiver, especially if you're not the mom, who is understandably needing some time off if she's going to give birth, then you're just on your own," Brady Easter said.

A study by the National Partnership for Women & Families gives Oklahoma a failing grade for parental leave policies.

The Family and Medical Leave Act is the only mandate in place for working families in the state.

Yet, according to the United States Department of Labor, there are several benefits to paid leave. The department says paid leave increases women in the workforce, reduces employee turnover and decreases infant mortality rates.

Ali Dodd was struck with tragedy after her son, Shepard, died at a home daycare her sixth day back from maternity leave.

He was placed in a car seat to sleep and asphyxiated when he was just 11-weeks-old.

"Unfortunately, we did everything we could and I stayed home as long as I could without losing my health benefits and my job. Unfortunately, our consequence was the loss of our son," Ali Dodd said.

Dodd now advocates for better family leave laws.

She commends Nextep's new policy and hopes others will follow.

"We're talking about saving lives. We're talking about making sure we're putting our families first, and I think that's something Oklahomans are really good at,” Dodd said.

"If we set a policy and that helps our employees and their families and people want to work here and want to work for companies that do these kind of things, I think that's great,” CEO and President of Nextep Brian Fayak said.

Nextep also created a re-integration program where the primary caregiver can work part-time when coming back from leave.

Their new bereavement policy gives four weeks of paid time off for the death of an immediate family member.