Should the U.S. Have Paid Family Leave? - American Society of Employers - Anthony Kaylin

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Should the U.S. Have Paid Family Leave?

 paid family leave

If the majority were to get their way, the answer would be yes.  Some states, such as California, have a form of paid family leave, but funding on a country-wide legislative mandate is still up in the air.  A number of issues arise from the length of family leave to the vehicle to provide payments to the breadth of family leave – all daunting issues. 

The U.S. lags the world when it comes to paid family leave.  The U.S. is one of just six countries without any form of national paid leave and one of eight without national maternity leave. The global average for paid maternity leave is 29 weeks and 16 weeks for paid paternity leave, according to data from the World Policy Analysis Center at UCLA.  In many states that have paid sick leave laws, five days of paid sick leave is a start but not a realistic solution to this situation.

“It’s pretty discouraging that one of the wealthiest countries in the world can’t get this done,” said Camilo Aguirre, a 36-year-old marketing product manager and father in Weehawken, N.J. In a Twitter feed, Dan Price, chief executive of Gravity Payments, stated, “Parental leave seems like a no-brainer stimulus for an economy with ‘no workers.’”

For employers with 50 or more employees, depending on the circumstance, 480 hours of unpaid Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) will apply in a 12-month period.  For the care of military family members, the hours are up to 960 in a 12-month period.  It not only applies to the birth and adoption of a child but also for serious health conditions of an employee as well as an immediate family member.  It can be taken in one continuous leave or intermittently.  With respect to the birth and adoption of a child, both the mother and father have access to it (assuming all other conditions for FMLA are met). 

This law was enacted in 1993, and the world has dramatically changed since then, and especially in the past two years with the pandemic. Childcare is likely the number one issue for women keeping them from the workforce today, and from a social equity viewpoint, men taking parental leave of any sort is considered a negative on their career.  Joe Lonsdale, co-founder of Palantir Technologies Inc., said on Twitter, “Any man in an important position who takes 6 months of leave for a newborn is a loser,” though later after criticism, took back the word loser, but didn’t agree with six months of leave. 

It should also be noted that women need to be working in order to take advantage of FMLA and any state mandate for paid family leave.  They are less likely to be employed at least at this time and thus penalized for being unemployed.  The Child Tax Credit, which is paying  up to $300 per child to families with children, somewhat alleviates this situation.

As of last reading, Paid Family Sick Leave was reintroduced into the Social and Climate Spending bill, with only four weeks of paid leave.  Senator Joe Manchin (D. WV) wants it paid by an additional employment tax on employees.  There is a question whether this paid leave is from social security or another fund.  California’s paid family leave (PFL) is funded entirely by California workers through a State Disability Insurance (SDI) payroll deduction.  Employees can receive approximately 60% to 70% of their weekly salary (from $50 to $1,357). The employer may allow vacation, sick, paid time off, or other leave to supplement the PFL benefits to receive up to 100% pay.  California also provides guidance as to proof of eligibility for the leave.

How does the U.S. population view paid sick leave?   A 2016 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 82% of those polled felt mothers should get paid leave after giving birth or adopting a child, and 69% said fathers should receive that leave as well. Note the possible social equity issue in this result.  The poll also showed 67% of Americans were in support of workers receiving paid leave to care for family members with serious health issues. A May 2021 survey from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that 70% of women with children and 69% of those without were in favor of paid leave.

The U.S. needs a paid family leave.  An easy way to start is to have FMLA become a paid sick leave.   There is no need to rewrite the law except to expand the law as to family members from in-laws to brothers and sisters to grandchildren and for domestic violence victims (similar to both the FFCRA and Michigan Paid Sick Leave).  Paid leave could be run through state’s unemployment funds (even though there are process issues with this approach) and both employers and employees could have a special employment tax to fund these payments.  Similar to California, employers could have coordination of benefits with short-time disability (STD) and other leave policies and require all employees to pay for it on a pretax basis STD so they will not be taxed on benefits.  Intermittent leave makes this approach more complicated, but the issues can be worked out.  Another approach could be to have anyone on paid leave by employers get a refundable tax credit, just like the FFCRA, to pay for this leave.

For employers under 50 employees, the refundable tax credit would likely be the best approach if FMLA was expanded to all employers with one or more employees.

Nothing is perfect, but a national policy will aid employers who are subject to a myriad of paid sick leave laws.


Source:  Wall Street Journal 10/30/21, CNBC 10/28/21


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