Do we need a national paid leave program? Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg says so.
In an interview with Bloomberg, Sandberg was asked about policies that will help contract workers and workers in the gig economy.
She admonished corporate leaders to expand paid leave benefits beyond just their full-time workers to contractor workers as well. Then she took the opportunity to campaign for a “strong national policy” on paid family leave. She notes:
“Let’s talk about family and medical leave. There’s a really good bill out there. It’s the FAMILY Act. Senator Gillibrand and Congresswoman DeLauro [are the lead sponsors]. It’s a good bill. It offers 12 weeks. It covers men and women. It offers substantial wage reimbursement and replacement … That’s the kind of public policy we need. There’s some progress at the state level. Washington state last month became the fifth state to offer [a] really good paid leave policy and that’s good. But … we need strong national policy.”
The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FMAILY) expands the current federal family and medical leave policy (12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave) with up to 12 weeks of paid time off for their own medical condition or caregiving (including childbirth) paid out at two-thirds of a worker’s average monthly wages.
Huffington Post calls Sandberg's endorsement a “watershed” moment:
Sandberg’s support gives a major boost to the FAMILY Act, the next step in making America family friendly. With her endorsement, momentum for paid family and medical leave growing, and unprecedented progress in the states and the private sector, this is indeed a watershed moment.
Working women and families certainly benefit from the ability to take time off to have a baby or bond with a new child. However, the problem of paid leave is not as widespread as you may think. The majority of workers have access to some paid leave through their employer according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Table 32). Some 80 percent full time workers have paid sick leave and 90 percent have paid vacation time, while a third of part-time workers have paid sick leave (31 percent) or paid vacation (35 percent).
Public policy can do more to encourage employers to expand current leave benefits to more workers. However, it is not the federal government’s responsibility to provide paid leave, especially by creating a new entitlement program. The FAMILY act is a one-size-fits-all mandate that would hurt more workers than it helps and could spell trouble for women in the workforce.
As Carrie Lukas explains in a policy focus, all workers would fund this program through a new payroll tax. Not only does that decrease take-home pay, but there’s an inherent unfairness against workers who won’t ever benefit from it such as those who can’t have children, are beyond childbearing age, or don’t want kids.
The introduction of a mandate will likely cause employers to eliminate their existing employer-provided programs, which may be more generous or flexible than what the FAMILY Act proposes. In the hiring process, many women negotiate a more flexible schedule or time off, but that ability to customize their work arrangement may disappear.
Furthermore, employers may be discouraged from hiring women of childbearing age to avoid the disruption to their offices.
There are better ways for policymakers and employers to lean in to family leave. We can encourage savings for expected time off through personal care accounts and target help to lower-income workers or vulnerable families through more generous earned income tax credits, dependent tax deductions, or child tax credits.
This is a policy to lean away from.