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Legal Ease


Paid Leave Laws – What To Expect By Richard D. Alaniz, Alaniz Law & Associates P


aid family and medical leave has been near the top of employee advocates’ wish list since the


passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 1993. It has consistently been part of the Democratic Party’s platform. In recent years it has also begun to garner Republican support. As a Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump called for a national paid family leave plan, and a number of high- profile Republican members of Congress have voiced support for paid family and medical leave.


Federal Action In 2018, Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Cassidy sought to generate bipartisan momentum on the issue. Senator Cassidy held congressional hearings and Senator Rubio proposed the Economic Security for New Parents Act, which provided two months of paid parental leave. Under this proposal, new parents could delay Social Security benefits in exchange for two months of paid benefits. The proposal made little progress in Congress. Much of the discussion focused on the potential negative impact on the viability of Social Security.


A paid leave program enabling


new parents to balance the competing demands of work and family is an attractive benefit. A recent poll found that 54% of Americans think the government should require employers to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Only 29% disagreed. Such popular support and increasing political pressure from both sides of the aisle makes federal action on the issue


26 ❘ November 2020 ®


more probable than not. President Trump’s most recent


budget proposal includes a provision for at least six weeks of paid family leave to new mothers and fathers, but makes no mention of paid leave for their own or a family member’s health issues. In response, Democrats put forward a proposal that addresses both issues and would give families 12 weeks paid leave. How such leave would be funded remains a thorny issue. In addition to concerns that use of


Social Security could erode the program, no consensus exists on whether it should be funded by employers or a combination of employee and employer contributions. Other open issues are the percentage of pay replacement and the duration of leave. Despite open questions, momentum is building for some form of federal paid family and medical leave.


State Action States have increasingly stepped in to adopt workplace regulations where the federal government fails to act. State- mandated minimum wages is one good example, which have exploded in recent years, partly due to the federal government inaction. States have taken the same type of action on paid family and medical leave. More than 24 states are working on their own paid family leave policies, and 7 have enacted legislation.


On June 25, 2019, Connecticut


became the 7th state to sign into law a paid family and medical leave benefit. It is being cited as among the most


generous in the country. Employees are entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave and two additional weeks for “incapacitation that occurs during a pregnancy.” Employees taking leave will be entitled to as much as 95% wage replacement. The benefit amount will be tied to the state’s minimum wage. The other states that have enacted similar laws are California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, and Washington D.C.


The number of paid weeks of


leave each state law allows varies. For example, the Washington D.C. law provides 2 to 8 weeks of paid leave. The California paid leave grants up to eight weeks of benefits. The Massachusetts plan, which will begin paying benefits in 2021, will provide 12 weeks of paid family leave or 20 weeks of medical leave per year. The plan in New Jersey provides benefits for up to 12 weeks. The New York law currently provides 10 weeks of paid family and medical leave, which will be raised to 12 weeks in 2021. The Rhode Island plan provides 4 weeks of leave. The Washington plan provides up to 12 weeks of paid leave with two additional weeks of paid leave for pregnancy-related complications.


The benefit amount of the benefits


paid during the leave also varies from state to state. In Connecticut it is a multiple of the state’s minimum wage, limited to a maximum dollar amount. In other state plans, benefits are structured as a certain percentage of wage replacement to a maximum dollar amount. No state plan has provided for full replacement of lost wages, but it


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