D.C. Council approves bill providing paid family leave

The District of Columbia Council approved a bill on December 20 requiring employers to give workers eight weeks’ paid leave for the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child. Employers will pay for the leave through a payroll tax.

In addition to the eight weeks of parental leave, the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016 also provides six weeks of leave to care for a family member and two weeks of leave for an employee’s own serious health condition.

Employers will contribute 0.62% of wages for each covered employee. Workers will be eligible to receive up to 90% of their regular pay, up to $1,000 per week. Federal and city employees aren’t eligible.

The tax collection must begin by March 1, 2019, and the city must begin paying out benefits by March 20, 2020.

The program will allow the city’s workers to take family and medical leave without facing financial calamity, said Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) in a statement. “The Council put forth a comprehensive paid family and medical leave program that will help us tackle one of our biggest challenges—ensuring that our city is a more equitable and fair place to live.”

Mayor Muriel Bowser, however, said that she couldn’t support the $250 million tax increase because it mostly benefits Maryland and Virginia residents who work in D.C. “It is wrong to raise District taxes to fund a costly, new government program that sends 66 percent of the benefits outside of the city, and leaves District families behind,” she said in a statement. “If the Council wants to raise $250 million in new taxes, shouldn’t the focus be on District residents and their needs?”

Bowser said she won’t sign the bill into law but didn’t make clear whether she would actually veto the bill. Instead, she could allow the law to take effect without taking action, according to the council.

But even if she did veto the bill, it passed 9-4 and therefore has the two-thirds majority required to override a veto. Finally, as with all D.C. legislation, the bill also must go to Congress for review.