Policy Impact Series Examines Potential for Federal Paid Leave Law

September 25, 2020

Future Workplace Policy Council Chair Johnna Torsone kicked off the second in our series of fall policy outlook calls by noting that the strong likelihood of a new federal paid leave law could include opportunities for gains for large companies by establishing greater uniformity in government requirements.

Preemption a priority:  Ms. Torsone was joined by Barbara Pennington, Senior Director, Employment Practices and Associate Relations, The Home Depot, and John Harrisingh, Head of Global Employee and Labor Relations, Johnson & Johnson.  All three company experts agreed the highest priority in any new federal law would be relief from the patchwork of state and local requirements, as emphasized in recent HR Policy comments to the Department of Labor.  HR Policy Senior Advisor on Workplace Policy Dan Yager cautioned that preemption faces many obstacles with both parties in Congress, but suggested a hybrid approach with preemption of some or all state and local administrative requirements is conceivable.

FMLA leave insurance program:  Panelists spent considerable time discussing the possibility of a federal paid leave insurance program for employees on FMLA leave.  Rather than the employer paying those employees directly, a federally-administered fund financed by employer and employee premiums taken from payroll would pay the benefits.  The reaction to this approach was generally acceptable as long as its impact on existing employer benefits was minimized.

Employers of all sizes already subject to mandates:  HR Policy Vice President of Health and Employment Policy Mark Wilson noted that most employers are already subject to a paid leave mandate of some form.  Employers of fewer than 500 were required earlier this year to provide paid sick and FMLA leave to employees impacted by COVID-19.  Large multi-state employers are covered by various state and local laws and federal contractors are covered by President Obama’s Executive Order 13706 requiring paid sick leave for employees working on federal contracts.

Changes ahead:  A new federal paid sick leave law is one among many of the Association’s priority areas that will be impacted by the November election results.  In the weeks ahead, we will examine labor policy (September 30), pay equity (October 7), expanded employer liability (October 14), health care (October 21), and executive compensation (October 28).  Please Note: the dates for the labor policy and pay equity calls as originally scheduled have changed.

For the slides used on the paid leave call and an overview of what CHROs need to know, click here.