Back in April, President Biden unveiled an aggressive plan to provide federal paid family and medical leave to employees at workplaces across America. Dubbed the “American Families Plan,” the law would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to American workers essentially for the same reasons currently covered by the FMLA.
With a $225 billion price tag, it faced an uncertain future.
Fast forward to recent weeks, as the President’s paid leave plan has gained momentum, albeit a slimmer version of what he proposed earlier this year. President Biden’s “Build Back Better” infrastructure package has advanced in the House, while it simmers in the Senate.
In the House, a version of the legislation passed last month out of the House Ways and Means Committee, which would offer 12 weeks of paid leave per year at a cost of $500 billion over 10 years. (100+ House members have joined the chorus.) Meanwhile, 15 Senators, led by New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, penned an October 19 letter to the President, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer urging them to maintain the 12-week leave entitlement in the infrastructure package.
In recent days, however, the tone has turned pessimistic. News outlets have reported that the latest discussions involve cutting 12 weeks of leave to four, lowering the maximum benefit, and potentially focusing only on paid parental leave, which typically is given only after the birth of a child. In remarks he gave yesterday on the proposed infrastructure bill, President Biden made no mention of paid leave, focusing on the infrastructure and job-creation aspects of the bill.
The President’s comments seem to imply paid leave again does not have the votes to pass at the federal level. Even with these latest cuts, federal paid leave again faces an uncertain future. [Hat tip to my Littler colleagues Mike Lotito and Jim Paretti for keeping me in the loop on the latest in Washington.]
Editorial comment: We are one of the few industrial countries where some basic form of paid leave is not the law of the land. Let that sink in: we are one of the few industrial counties without any federal paid leave. Take a glimpse of the chart at right from the New York Times — we’re dark orange, which means federal law affords no paid leave to American workers. The other countries without paid leave? You could count them on one hand.
We’re far better than this.
Friends, many of you already provide generous paid leave programs to your employees. Kudos to you! Sadly, though, you are among the few offering such a benefit to your employees.
There is much to be gained by providing American workers some modest bank of paid FMLA — boosting employee morale, showing a commitment to work/life balance, supporting employees when they need to care for themselves or a loved one, improving your recruitment of the best candidates, just to name a few. More importantly, it’s simply the right thing to do.
Count me among the lucky ones who benefited from employer-provided paid leave: It allowed me to hold my father’s hand and comfort him in the days before he died of cancer. It also ensured I had plenty of time to bond with my four beautiful children after they were born. So many others don’t have this benefit, as there is no law guaranteeing them paid time away from work for serious medical and family needs. Therefore, I stand with people like Vicki Shabo, senior fellow for paid leave policy and strategy at New America’s Better Life Lab, who reminds us:
The country is at a critical inflection point. Paid leave helps keep people attached to jobs, safeguards their income, facilitates caregiving, and aids the economy.
Simply stated, yet so true.
To be clear, this is just a blog post. It’s not meant to be some political statement; indeed, paid leave for all American workers should never become part of a political game. And I look forward to a day when I can laugh with my sons and daughters about the fact that our country foolishly haggled over paid FMLA leave for far too long in its history.
Having said this, I know I’ll get a few “Nowak, you pinko communist” emails because of my ramblings here. Let me make it easy for you: it’s fmlainsightsblog at gmail[dot]com.
That said, I know many of my blog followers have recognized that paid leave has become a basic workplace benefit in 2021, and it’s time has come.
Time to get on board.