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Lawmakers press for passage of paid family leave bill—anticipating help from the White House

Paid parental leave is once again in focus on Capitol Hill, and unions and advocacy groups are pushing for passage, eying some glimmers of hope from the incoming administration.

Paid parental leave is once again in focus on Capitol Hill, and unions and advocacy groups are pushing for passage, eying some glimmers of hope from the incoming administration.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives—including Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Barbara Comstock (R-Va.), Don Beyer (D-Va.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)—are pressing to extend paid family leave protections to federal employees.

The members have relaunched their effort to pass the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act—also known as FEPPLA.

Some of the bill’s backers have noted that the new administration-and particularly President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who is part of the president’s inner circle—have spoken out consistently in favor of making paid family leave—at least six weeks of it—as policy.

The bill would give feds six weeks of paid leave after the birth, adoption or fostering of a child, as well as for other family leave needs. At present, federal government employees can take up to 12 weeks off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The problem, paid leave backers point out, is that unpaid leave forces employees “to choose between a paycheck and caring for a new child during the critical first weeks,” according to a statement on Maloney’s website.

“Many are surprised to learn that the federal government does not provide paid parental leave to its employees,” Rep. Maloney said in a fact sheet on her website. “As the nation’s largest employer, the federal government should be a leader in family friendly policies, but it has not kept pace with the changing American workforce.”

“The United States is the only industrialized nation that doesn’t provide paid parental leave for its entire workforce. Worldwide, it is only the U.S. and Papua New Guinea that have no such policy,” said Rep. Maloney. “This is not only wrong; it’s bad for our economy…”

Government employee unions are also speaking out in favor of the bill—organizations including the National Treasury Employees Union, the American Federal Government Employees, and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Advocates highlight productivity and cost improvements

“In terms of the benefits, paid family and medical leave is much too rarely provided by employers, much too rarely guaranteed by the states, and yet essential to the well-being and economic security of families, businesses and the economy,” Vicki Shabo, a vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families, a nonprofit that researches and advocates for family leave, told FEND.

Shabo noted that federal employees often cannot afford the loss of pay for periods of family leave, and she applauded the Maloney bill for offering at least an incremental step toward improving the situation

“The Maloney proposal’s six week of paid parental leave for federal employees is actually to run concurrently with the current 12 weeks of unpaid leave made available under the Family Medical and Leave Act,” she added.

“From the employer perspective, there are huge benefits too,” she told FEND. “We have lots of data, from many employers, that show employers see a great return on their investments—they see benefits in terms of retention and employee retention, both. So, it only makes sense for the federal government as an employer that wants to attract and retain young talent—young people—to offer paid parental leave benefit.”

“We applaud it,” Shabo told said, adding, “Just as we would applaud other employers who offer paid parental leave or more broadly paid family leave for their workforce—and we see this as a particular solution for a particular employer, the federal government.”

Paid leave improves morale

“There are a number of good private sector studies, on this,” Shabo told FEND. “There was one was just this month from Boston Consulting Group—and it shows there are some real returns on investment, as measured by retention, productivity, morale and in general employees feeling good at their workplace.”

“One great example comes from Google,” Shabo added. “Offering an additional six weeks of leave by that company turned out to be revenue-neutral—it didn’t create cost, and that’s because this move cut the attrition rate in half.”

She noted that Google’s existing benefits were already relatively strong. But adding six weeks on top of the existing 12 weeks actually equalized the retention rates for men and women—they retained men and women at the same rates after the change. “It was cost neutral because for Google, as for other companies, hiring and training new workers is very expensive—anywhere from 20 to 200 percent of salary,” Shabo noted.

Not just a 'woman’s issue': Caring for parents, special needs children and illness

The addition of guaranteed paid family leave to the existing provision for unpaid family leave is, contrary to “widespread beliefs,” is not just a women’s issue, as Shabo and other family leave advocates emphasize.

“This is not just a women’s issue, it’s also an issue for men,” Shabo told FEND. “And it isn’t just an issue for new parents.”

“Paid family leave is also an issue for people who are caring for an aging population—whether for parents or a spouse—or for a child with special needs, or for time needed to deal with their own serious health condition,” Shabo said. “We have to emphasize it isn’t just leave to care for a new baby or adopted child.”

Statistics show that for people who take leave under the existing FMLA law, a large chunk of leave is for personal illness. “For unpaid FMLA, a little over half of the time off is for workers’ own serious health issues, while about a quarter is for new children,” Shabo said. “Just about a fifth of the time is for caring for other serious family health issues.”

In short, the survey statistics used by NPWF show that most leave currently taken for family purposes is taken to deal with illness or convalescing. “This is a fact that is often missed in the conversation on leave,” Shabo told FEND. She cautioned that her figures are for the wider economy, not for the federal government’s workforce.

Resistance still lingers

Much of the resistance to enacting laws to guarantee paid family leave originate in long-entrenched ideas, as groups like NPWF and federal labor unions point out.

“Most of the opposition to passage of these guarantees is an ideological one," Shabo said. " It’s concern about interference in the employee-employer relationship.”

“That’s at the level of public policy—but there’s another level to this, employers just creating their own paid leave policies” Shabo continued. “At the level of the employer, often the resistance is they haven’t thought about it or just don’t know how to get started.”

“In the end, everyone should see that pressing for paid family leave is all about creating systems that can help support workers and their families throughout their lifetimes,” Shabo said.

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