National Paid Leave May Soon Be a Reality
February 17, 2021
In a move that would pay workers a portion of their compensation while out on medical leave, Democrats have proposed legislation in Congress for a national paid leave program, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (the “FAMILY Act”). If passed, this legislation would pay workers a portion of their compensation while out on leave to deal with, among other things, health issues, caring for one’s family members, and childbirth.
The bill was proposed last week by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (New York) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Connecticut). This marks the fifth time Gillibrand and DeLauro have attempted to pass a similar measure, but this time, it has a real chance of passing.
So, what is different this time around?
Primarily, the key difference this time is the fact the Democrats control both Houses and have a sitting President. In addition, Americans are reeling from the impact of COVID-19, which many supporters believe has shifted the national conversation on paid leave to favor a nationally based solution. The forgoing factors may very well cause the perfect storm and provide enough momentum to garner passage of the FAMILY Act in 2021.
Currently, the Family and Medical Leave Act (the “FMLA”), which is administered by the United States Department of Labor, provides eligible employees the opportunity to take job-protected, unpaid leave for up to 12 weeks per year for certain medical and family-related reasons. However, it is important to note, not all workers are covered and the leave provided under FMLA is unpaid.
The new provisions contained in the FAMILY Act would pay workers up to 66% of their monthly wages while allowing them to take as much as 12 weeks off to deal with health issues, pregnancy, childbirth, child adoption, a family member’s illness/injury, as well as certain matters related to military deployment.
Most readers will note the similarities of this bill to the provisions contained in the emergency paid sick leave law passed early last year to help employees deal with the impact of COVID-19. The key difference is the benefits of the FAMILY Act would remain long after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided.
Proponents of the FAMILY Act argue that every worker will at some point need access to paid leave to take care of themselves or a sick family member and workers should not be forced to choose between earning a paycheck and meeting one’s own health needs or those of a family member. Critics of the FAMILY Act contend the program is cost prohibitive and most workers currently have paid family leave benefits through state or employer-sponsored programs.
In recent years, public opinion has shown a growing and sizable support for paid leave to address family and health matters. However, many still believe employers are better positioned to provide and pay for such benefits rather than the government. We will have to wait and see where the debate ends, but there has never been a time when a measure like the FAMILY Act had a better chance to pass into law.
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