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Democrats Push for More Paid Leave

Federal employees may soon be allowed to take up to eight weeks of paid parental leave for the birth, adoption or fostering of a child. On June 4, 2009, the House passed HR-626, the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act. In a 258-154 vote, the House passed a bill which will provide federal workers the option of taking four weeks of paid parental leave out of the twelve weeks of unpaid leave already provided through the Family Medical Leave Act. Curiously, the bill also contains a provision which allows the Office of Personnel Management to extend the amount of available paid parental leave to eight weeks.

A companion bill was introduced into the Senate by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) on January 29, 2009. It is currently in the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs as well as in a Senate subcommittee. Similar bills have been passed twice in the House, but have failed both times in the Senate. President Obama has voiced his support for the Act.

Supporters, including sponsor Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), claim the United States is the only industrialized country that does not provide support for federal workers with a new child. About 75% of FMLA eligible employees do not take leave because of monetary issues. The bill was modeled after California’s state law which provides for paid parental leave. A four year study showed that California had a lower rate of foreclosures than other states due to income loss arising from the need to care for a household member.

Many Republicans strongly opposed the bill due to its estimated $1 billion price tag. Opponents claim that Democrats are passing on billions of dollars in associated costs to our children. They further opine that during such hard economic times, when many people have lost their jobs and small businesses are struggling, it seems unfair that federal employees will be enjoying more benefits at the cost of taxpayers.

Democrats are making a big push to reform the FMLA. There are several other bills pending in the house which deal with FMLA issues: HR-2161, the Family Medical Leave Restoration Act, would reverse the final regulations issued by the Department of Labor in November 2008 which dealt with recertification of a medical condition and the definition of a serious health condition; HR-2131, the Family Medical Leave Inclusion Act, would amend the FMLA to allow leave to care for domestic partners, the child of a domestic partner, same-sex spouses, parents-in-law, adult children, siblings or grandparents who have a serious health condition; HR-2339, the Family Income to Respond to Significant Transitions Act, would give grants to states to improve their family leave programs.

Small businesses will be most affected if states require employers to provide paid parental leave. Many small businesses cannot afford to pay the employee and their replacement while that employee is out on parental leave. A witness at the U.S. House Education and Labor Workforce Protections Subcommittee hearing testified that this bill would be an unjust burden on small businesses and create an open invitation to litigation.

Supporters and opponents will be watching these bills closely as they make their way through the House and the Senate. It is possible that within the next year, the FMLA will be greatly expanded and will require private employers to overhaul their employment practices. This could come at great cost to big and small businesses alike.

Brody and Associates regularly advises management on complying and remaining up to date with state and federal employment laws. If we can be of assistance in this area, please contact us at info@brodyandassociates.com or 203.965.0560.