One of the most joyous occasions in the life of any American family is when a new member is added, whether through birth or adoption.
Over the years, the workplace has recognized this occasion by voluntarily creating policies that permit employees to take time off (whether paid or unpaid) and return to their job. This decision may no longer be voluntary if some advocates have their way, and that’s concerning.
In his State of the Union address last week, President Obama renewed his call for a national mandatory paid leave policy. Earlier this month he signed a presidential memorandum that gives federal employees access to six weeks of paid leave by allowing new parents to advance their sick time.
This week, House Democrats introduced a bill that allows federal employees to take six weeks of paid time off for birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. Called the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, this takes the President’s plan farther by actually paying employees for half of their unpaid leave and it would not count against annual or sick leave.
Beyond just federal workers, this is yet another signal to states on employee regulations to institute and the private sector of how Washington thinks it should run its workplace.
Going it alone, this bill has no bipartisan support. Republicans are staying far away. Instead of looking for ways to amend this bill to make it amenable to conservatives, Democrats have gone on the offensive to thrash paid family leave policies in the U.S. Good luck earning more support with that approach.
The Hill reports:
If the bill fails to garner the Republican support, [Rep. Carolyn] Maloney [D-N.Y.] said she is prepared to put forth a discharge petition to force the bill to the floor for a vote.
She and other Democrats went on to call the lack of paid leave in the United States an embarrassment. The U.S. is one of only three countries in the world without mandatory paid maternity leave. Papua New Guinea and Oman are the other two.
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D.Md.) said paid leave is crucial to attract and retain a talented workforce in the federal government.
“We are at risk of not being able to recruit the kind of talent America needs and that our federal government needs to do the complex and challenging jobs of making sure the American people are served well,” he said.
But beyond the government, Hoyer said, a federal paid leave law would encourage private sector companies to enact paid leave policies of their own.
Maloney said the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act would make workers more financially secure, make businesses more productive, create a workforce that’s less reliant on public assistance and narrow the wage gap between men and women.
“It’s time for the United States to move into the family of the world that is supporting maternity leave for their workers,” she said.
What’s the current deal with family leave? The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave every year, but it applies only to full-time workers at companies with 50 or more employees. About half of all working Americans are covered by FMLA. Another 12 percent of American workers have access to paid leave in the U.S., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Would federal law mandating paid leave make things better? Well, it’s expensive and would drive up the costs for business – especially small businesses for which it’s difficult to absorb those costs. In some cases, it could mean the expense of hiring temporary workers to necessary work. That is a case-by-case calculation.
In addition, there are other unintended consequences. As Carrie Lukas, IWF’s managing director, notes in a recent Bloomberg BusinessWeek article, sweeping laws “rewrite employment contracts for every working American” and have harmful unintended consequences. Carrie notes she's “worried about the way it’ll change women’s employment prospects. It’s written in gender-neutral language, but every employer in their right mind knows who’s going to take advantage of these benefits.” As a result women get pigeon-holed into roles where they are not expected to advance such as in Sweden, the article notes.
As we contend in “Get The Facts” on government-mandated leave, family leave is a great benefit that employers should offer their workers to retain great talent, recruit new talent, and remain competitive. However, employees and employers should be free to negotiate those decisions as part of their compensation packages.
So what happens when a small business creates its own family leave plan? One Oregon restaurant just gave its workers paid parental leave and the owners sum up their feelings: "I really do think this will be better for us in the long run," said [Laughing Planet's owner and chief executive Franz ] Speilvogel. "But who knows, maybe in 12 months, I'll say, oh no, what have I done?"