Personal finance

Is Paid Parental Leave Finally Coming To The U.S.?

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Is Paid Parental Leave Finally Coming To The U.S.?Getty Creative

The United States is the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee paid parental leave—and most of those who qualify for the standard unpaid leave don’t use it because they can’t afford to.

Parental leave is a crucial part of the social safety net that ensures your job is protected when you have to take time off to give birth to or care for a child. The national mandate for unpaid parental leave in the U.S. also covers workers’ time off to tend to a serious injury, whether it’s theirs or a family member’s.

Only 19% of U.S. employees have access to paid family leave through an employer—and those who don’t are often forced to choose between time off or a paycheck.

The coronavirus pandemic has shown how vital proper job protections are for millions of Americans, and lawmakers are responding by finally moving us closer to a federal paid parental leave law.

How Covid-19 Strengthened the Argument for Paid Parental Leave in the U.S.

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerability of workers, including when it came to taking time off to tend to sick loved ones or to care for children.

To date, there have been over 31.5 million coronavirus cases in the United States since March 2020, with over 560,000 deaths. As schools shuttered, parents were forced to juggle children at home with full-time remote work. Many workers who didn’t have the luxury of working remotely faced the harsh choice between missing work and losing a paycheck, or being unable to care children stuck at home and loved ones who fell ill.

In March 2020, the federal government stepped in with the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Under the act, employees were offered up to 12 weeks of partial paid leave to tend to their children during the pandemic, either due to an illness or a school closure.

Similar to the Family and Medical Leave Act, FFCRA included specific qualifications and caveats for workers. But it was the first step forward in providing a national mandate for paid leave—and makes the current law’s unpaid portion look wildly outdated. Switzerland, for example, has provided paid family leave since 2004.

Why The U.S Doesn’t Have Paid Parental Leave

For many years, Congress has remained at a stalemate on the issue of paid parental leave. Democrats and Republicans both agree that there should be a national mandate, but remain split on exactly what the provisions should be and who should foot the bill for the paid time off.

There is only one federal parental leave law—which comes with a handful of exceptions and isn’t paid—called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Only a few states and the District of Columbia have created their own paid family leave policies.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1999 (FMLA) is a federal law that guarantees up to 12 working weeks of unpaid leave each year to qualifying employees.

The landmark legislation drastically changed the rights of workers; prior to it becoming law, there was no legal requirement for employers to provide protected leave to employees—they could be fired for taking time off for childbirth or other family medical issues. In 2020, only 20% of private sector workers had access to paid family leave to care for a new child or a family member.

To make things even more challenging, the FMLA excludes many Americans.The law only applies to private companies with at least 50 employees, as well as government agencies and elementary and secondary schools regardless of size. Eligible employees must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months in a row, for at least 1,250 hours in those 12 months.

Even if the employer has at least 50 employees, you must work at a location where the employer has at least 50 employees within 75 miles of the worksite. There is mixed guidance on how this rule applies to remote workers; some legal professionals say remote workers do qualify even if they’re not within 75 miles of the office from where they receive assignments, but not all employers are aware of this intricacy.

The following situations may qualify for unpaid leave under the FMLA:

  • Serious health conditions of a spouse, child, parent or yourself, including: Conditions that require staying in a hospital or medical facility or keep the person home for more than three days while requiring medical treatment; incapacitating chronic conditions that require treatment at least twice a year; and pregnancy, including medical appointments, being unable to work due to morning sickness and medically required bed rest.
  • Military family leave: Military families can take FMLA for reasons related to certain military deployments, and can take up to 26 weeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for a covered service member with a serious injury or illness.
  • Welcoming a new child to your family: Both men and women can use FMLA leave to bond with a newborn child or welcome an adopted or fostered child into the family. The leave must be taken within one year of the child’s birth or placement in the home, and must be taken as one continuous block of leave (unless an employer agrees to an alternative schedule, such as part-time work).

Other specifics to keep in mind include:

  • Your employer could require you to use your paid leave first. If that’s the case, then this time off still counts toward your 12 weeks of protected leave under the FMLA.
  • You must give your employer at least 30 days advance notice, when possible. If your situation was unexpected, you must notify your employer as soon as you can. You must follow the employer’s usual notice or call-in procedures, unless you’re unable to due (such as receiving emergency medical care).
  • You must provide enough information so the employer is aware your situation is covered by the FMLA. You don’t need to provide your medical diagnosis, but you might be asked to provide information that proves your leave is for a FMLA-protected condition, such as a note from a medical doctor. In most circumstances, you only have 15 calendar days to provide such information, or your FMLA leave may be denied.
  • Your employer must notify you of your eligibility for FMLA leave within five business days of your initial request. If they don’t, then your leave is not FMLA-protected. The FMLA requires the employee and employer to follow the company’s regular call-in notice, which is usually in writing—so keep a paper trail of the entire process.

Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA)

The Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA) is a national mandate for paid family leave, but only applies to federal employees.

Under FEPLA, federal employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave for the birth, adoption or fostering of a child. The law was established by former President Donald Trump in 2019.

Some analysts argue that the FEPLA has shortcomings, such as not providing pay for taking leave to care for family members with a serious health condition. There are currently proposals to create a national mandate that would cover such situations.

When Will Everyone Else Get Paid Parental Leave?

There are a handful of paid family leave proposals making their way through D.C. But it remains to be seen if any of them can get the bipartisan support needed to pass.

One of the most recent proposals, the bipartisan Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY) Act would change the leave provided by the FMLA from unpaid to paid. The time off would still equal 12 weeks, but would cover two-thirds of the employee’s wages, up to a capped amount.

There is evidence that President Joe Biden supports paid parental leave—but his most recent bills and proposals don’t include these provisions.

Just before the passage of theAmerican Rescue Plan Act of 2021, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen signaled that Biden is open to a national mandate for paid family leave and child care. When asked if Yellen’s goal was to bring the U.S. up to speed with other countries in terms of a paid family leave policy, Yellen said that it could be an issue that Biden tackles after dealing with the immediate economic crisis resulting from Covid-19.

Biden introduced The American Jobs Plan, a $2 trillion proposal to strengthen the economy and create millions of jobs over the next eight years, in March. The bill includes $25 billion for improved access to child care, but leaves out coverage for paid family leave.

Read more: Biden Aims to Create Millions of Jobs With New $2 Trillion Economic Plan

There is growing pressure for the federal government to take action. Past surveys find the majority of Americans support paid family and medical leave. In the wake of the pandemic, nearly 200 business executives from large companies including Patagonia, Etsy and Salesforce have penned a letter to Congress calling for the creation of permanent paid family and medical leave policies.

What Congress will choose to do remains to be seen.

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed the vulnerability of workers, including when it came to taking time off to tend to sick loved ones or to care for children.

Source: https://www.forbes.com/advisor/personal-finance/paid-parental-leave-reform/

Donovan Larsen

Donovan is a columnist and associate editor at the Dark News. He has written on everything from the politics to diversity issues in the workplace.

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