Paid Leave Bill Introduced in Congress

On December 12, 2013, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (the "Family Act") that provides for paid leave (S. 1810; H.R. 3712).

The current law on the books:  The Family and Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 2601 et. seq. (2013), provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave for, among other things, to attend to a serious health condition that impairs the employee's essential job duties, the birth or to care for a newborn child within one year of birth; adoption or foster care for a newly placed child within one year of placement; or to care for an employee's spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition.

Many employees cannot afford to take extended unpaid leave forcing them to choose between their job, or their health care or the care of their family, possibly defeating the purpose of FMLA.

The Family Act would provide for paid leave up to 60 workdays or 12 weeks in a year.  Those benefits would be paid out of a national insurance fund.  Benefits would be portable.  Both the employer and employee would pay .20 of 1 % of wages from each pay check.  The Fund would be administered by a new office of Paid Family and Medical Leave.   Leave may be taken all at once or intermittently.  Benefits would amount to 66% of an individual's monthly wages (based on the highest annual earnings for the prior three years and capped at a monthly amount equal to the indexed national average wage index ($580 to $4,000 per month).

Eligibility is not tied to the FMLA (FMLA excludes employers with less than 50 employees within 75 miles of the work site). All private and public sector employees and self-employed who pay into Social Security benefits, has earned any income in the past 12 months and is engaged in qualified care-giving are eligible.  This will cover employees not covered by the FMLA.  Opting out is not an option. Like FMLA, the employee must apply (or request) leave.  Employers cannot retaliate against employees requesting leave but an employer with less than 50 employees may not be required to hold the job so long as the reason is non-discriminatory (State FMLA laws may still apply).  The Family Act leave could run concurrently with FMLA leave.

For eligible employees the Family Act would provide support by permitting employees to benefit from paid leave without expending accrued paid leave if available and continuing for at least 12 weeks receiving a portion of their weekly paycheck at  a minimal cost.  For employers, the Act will encourage employee loyalty and reduce the cost of turnover also at a minimal cost.   It remains to be seen if Congress passes the measure.

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