Paid Leave Agreement for Federal Workers May Set Stage for Private-Sector Measure

December 13, 2019

As HR Policy Association continues to press for a federal solution to the patchwork quilt of state and local laws, White House and Congressional negotiators agreed to grant federal workers a 12-week family paid leave benefit that could set a precedent for a private-sector mandate.

The employer—the government—pays the entire benefit for the birth or adoption of a child in the measure that passed the House Wednesday.  This version does not cover the care of a sick family member and it remains unclear how it interacts with Family and Medical Leave Act.

A step in the right direction?  Supporters such as House Oversight and Reform Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) readily admit the federal parental leave benefit brings us a step closer to a nation-wide policy.  But they also say it is only a first step.  Maloney said, “This provision covers only federal employees, so it does not cover anyone working in a private corporation or business.  We will continue fighting for these Americans in the years to come.”

Who pays?  The government (i.e., the employer) will bear the entire $3.3 billion price tag—an important difference from the majority of state and local paid sick measures.  For most state and local family leave bills, as opposed to sick leave, the benefits are paid by an insurance program funded by contributions from both the employer and employees.  The leading Democratic measure in Congress takes a similar approach.  

The federal government doesn’t have to deal with the maze of state and local laws because it is not covered by them, which makes it easier and far less costly to provide uniform paid leave benefits for its employees. 

HR Policy urges preemption:  In a letter to Chair Maloney and Ranking Republican Jim Jordan (R-OH) following the hearing, HR Policy encouraged policy makers to consider a preemptive bill that uses the definitions and standards in the FMLA.  The Business Roundtable made a similar request in a letter to the President Thursday and further proposed a safe harbor “allowing employers to maintain their own plans if they self-finance and administer benefits differently to different types of employees, provided all minimum requirements are met.”

Ivanka Trump continued her advocacy for paid parental leave, headlining a White House summit this week.  Ms. Trump gave a hat tip to the states that passed new laws as laboratories of democracies and trumpeted the federal workers’ agreement.  “We have come together today because we have a historic chance to pass paid family leave and child care reform so that every American family has the freedom to embrace the dignity of work and the joy of raising a family.  Our vision is to give each parent the resources and support they need to make the best choice for their families.”

A potential tax credit solution:  Late last week, Senators Bill Cassidy (R-LA) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) introduced their bipartisan bill, which would allow new parents to take an advance against future child tax credits.  "It's about flexibility and giving families access to resources when they need them most," Cassidy said.  Capitol Hill-watchers have expected Cassidy-Sinema for months, but it’s given little hope as more progressive policy makers say it does not go far enough.  However, if Cassidy-Sinema was promoted as a tax tweak, rather than the solution to paid leave, it could have a shot.