HR Management & Compliance

Could Federal Paid Family Leave Become a Reality in the United States?

The topic of paid family leave is gaining more and more attention across the United States and among employers nationwide. With states and localities establishing varying paid sick time and family leave requirements, the issue of paid family leave has become a hot topic among federal lawmakers. Just a few months ago, senators from both sides of the aisle tried to determine what a bipartisan solution to the question of federal paid leave would look like.

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Both Republicans and Democrats agree that paid family leave should be expanded to better support working parents. They also agree that paid family leave improves health outcomes for workers, helps families manage their responsibilities at work and home, and creates incentives for people to stay in the workplace, which supports productivity and economic growth. However, they have proposed bills containing vastly different responses to family leave, sick time, and flexible scheduling standards.

On the Republican side, several senators have proposed measures that would provide relief to businesses in bypassing local laws that require paid time off (PTO) for employees to care for newborn children. For example, the Workflex in the 21st Century Act, proposed by Representative Mimi Walters (R-California), would give businesses that have PTO programs some relief from the web of local and state paid sick leave laws while providing workers between 12 and 20 days of paid sick time depending on the size of the company. It would also require employers to give employees a number of different flexible scheduling options. The Economic Security for New Parents Act, proposed by Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida), would give workers at least two months off at about two-thirds their regular salary to care for their children, but because it would be funded by Social Security, it would require employees to work longer before retiring.

Congressional Democrats have floated their own set of bills, including the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act), proposed by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut), which would give workers up to 12 weeks of family leave at as much as two-thirds of their salary. The plan would be funded by a payroll tax paid by businesses and their workers. Also under consideration is the Schedules That Work Act, sponsored by DeLauro and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), which would allow workers to request changes to the terms of their jobs and trigger an interactive process with their employer.

It will be interesting to see how these proposed bills play out and how much bipartisan support can be raised to move forward with a federal solution to the paid family leave issue. Given the growing chorus of voices asking federal lawmakers to adress the issue, it seems possible Congress may come up with some type of answer.

Sara Nasseri is an associate with Fortney & Scott, LLC, in Washington, D.C. You can reach her at snasseri@fortneyscott.com.