The movement to require employers to provide paid family leave for their employees may have stalled in Congress, but has made significant headway in many states and metropolitan areas.
The campaign seeks to go beyond the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which allows eligible employees to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for themselves or to care for sick family members.
Although enough employees have abused the privilege for some employers to dub the FMLA “The Friday and Monday Leave Act,” critics say it creates a hardship for lower paid workers who cannot afford to take much unpaid time off to care for an elderly parent, deal with a sick child or pregnancy complications.
First Lady Melania Trump has advocated adoption of a national program, and several pieces of legislation have been introduced in Congress, but they have gone nowhere.
Any federal measure would follow in the wake of states and localities that have enacted their own paid family leave laws, while other jurisdictions have such laws in the works. they vary in the funding mechanisms imposed on employers, including expansion of unemployment insurance programs.
Family leave laws have already been passed in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington State and Washington D.C., and even some counties and small cities like Duluth, MN.
New paid family leave laws recently enacted will go into effect over the next few years in Rhode Island, Washington State and Washington, DC.
The newest trend in some jurisdictions is to enact programs that allow paid leave for employees to deal other than health-related absences including spousal abuse, stalking and other crimes. For example in New York City, as of June 1, employers must offer workers what the law terms “safe leave.”
In New York City this pertains to any situation where the employee or family member of the employee becomes a victim of a family violence, sexual offense, stalking or human trafficking. An employee’s use of paid time off for any of these circumstances is often called “safe time.”
In addition, the new law broadens the definition of “family member” for both sick and safe time to include any other person related by blood to the employee, and anyone whose close association with the employee can be considered the equivalent of a family relationship.
New Jersey’s new law, which goes into effect on Oct. 18, requires workers to get one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, at the same rate of pay with the same benefits normally earned. The use, annual accrual and carryover of earned sick leave are capped at 40 hours each year.
The New Jersey law also covers unrelated people who are considered to be part of the family relationship. Benefits can be used for parents attending school-related conferences or functions, time needed to deal with domestic or sexual violence, and when the employee is unable to work due to a public health emergency.
Washington State and Seattle recently expanded their paid family leave programs covering the same situations that result in a need for “safe time.” Similar laws have been adopted by the District of Columbia, Maryland, Minneapolis, St. Paul, MN, and several other cities and counties.
Among few private employers who offer paid “safe time” is the staffing firm Kelly Services Inc.