Benefits, Leave Policy/Compliance

Is Mandatory Paid Family Leave on the Horizon?

It’s fairly well-known that the United States is one of only a couple countries in the world that does not have any federally mandated requirement for employers to provide paid time off for new parents. This is a fact that comes as a bit of a shock to those in other countries, many of which have had this type of paid leave for decades.

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But, it’s possible that may be changing soon. Historically, it has been Democrats who have been the ones introducing the most legislation related to increasing paid leave requirements, but even though there’s a Republican federal government, this topic is back on the agenda. In the latest budget proposals, money has been earmarked to help pay for up to 6 weeks of paid leave for new parents.

That said, this is still in the early stages. The budget proposal is just one step of many before something like this would become law. Right now, it looks as though the administration will propose to pay for the paid leave at the federal level by utilizing the unemployment insurance system that is already in place.

What Is Currently Known (and Unknown) About the Proposal?

Here are some of the details we know, as well some of the yet unanswered questions:

  • As noted above, the proposal would be paid for through the existing unemployment insurance system. This is an important element for employers, as it means the employer would not be paying for the employee’s salary during the leave period. It’s unknown at this point how this increase in cost would be funded.
  • Currently, the information we have about the proposal indicates that it would give both mothers and fathers up to 6 weeks of paid leave, regardless of whether the new parents have just had a baby or have adopted. Whether it would be full pay, a fraction of pay, or some other measure or percentage is unknown—but there will likely be at least a cap on the maximum payment amounts per person.
  • The program would be administered at the state level, much like unemployment benefits already are. Theoretically, that could mean states could have input into how the program will eventually look.
  • It is still unknown how this will impact the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Under the FMLA, those who qualify can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth or placement of a child. It is not known whether this benefit will be affected or not, or whether this will remain in place in addition to the requirement to allow the 6 weeks of paid leave.
  • This proposal is not yet formal, and there is a separate proposal that is already in the Senate, with differing details.

What Happens Now?

From the Trump administration, all we have so far is a budget proposal that has earmarked funds for such a program. We also have the separate bill that was introduced in the Senate back in February (S. 337)—but that bill is a proposal calling for a longer period of paid leave (12 weeks) at partial pay. Some form of that bill (or another one) still needs to be passed before anything will change—a process that could be a long time in the making, especially given that the bill that was proposed does not yet align with what is in the preliminary budget.

Democrats who have historically been in favor of paid leave legislation may still not be on board with the amounts in the budget, as their separate proposal already represents a push for even longer paid leave options (12 weeks instead of 6). In other words, while there are multiple plans being discussed, it’s not a guarantee that any of this will pass, even if it looks like it might have a chance at some bipartisan support. Employers should watch this space to see how this progresses and start thinking through the ramifications in the workplace and how to adjust if Congress does get some form of this legislation through.