The 2016 election brought the discussion of paid family leave into millions of American households on a nationwide scale. In one of the most divisive presidential elections in recent history, both Republican Donald J. Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton supported paid family leave. During the campaign, Trump proposed a plan of six weeks of paid maternity leave for new mothers after childbirth. Clinton put forth a plan of 12 weeks of partially paid leave for men and women whether they become parents through pregnancy, surrogacy or adoption. While both put forward very different plans, it marked the first time in U.S. history when the two major-party candidates proposed such policies. During his address to Congress in February 2017, President Trump referenced working with both parties to ensure new parents have paid family leave. However, progress on a national scale may take longer than anticipated.
Currently, there is no federal requirement that employers offer paid leave. Existing federal law under the Family and Medical Leave Act, commonly known as the FMLA, allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. The law applies to private employers with 50 or more employees.
The only states in the United States that have laws requiring paid family leave are California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. The state of New York approved legislation for paid family leave that will take effect in 2018, and the District of Columbia approved legislation that will become effective in 2020. Further, some cities have their own paid family leave laws. However, the majority of the states and cities across the United States do not have such laws. Other states have laws in place allowing parents to take unpaid leave for purposes of children’s welfare, such as laws allowing unpaid leave for parents to participate in a child’s school activities.
In recent years, some private companies have announced expanded leave policies, giving paid time off to new parents. According to a report published by the Department of Labor in 2016, about 13 percent of private sector employees in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employer.
In Florida, Palm Beach County commissioners are currently debating whether to extend paid parental leave to county employees. Miami-Dade County and the city of Miami Beach have paid parental leave laws in effect, where employees of those municipalities can take up to six weeks of paid parental leave, receiving 100 percent of their pay during the first two weeks, 75 percent during the following two weeks and 50 percent of their pay during the remaining two weeks. Other municipalities across the state, such as the cities of Doral and Tampa, provide paid leave to employees of the municipalities.
It is no surprise that parental leave has been a topic of discussion as the labor force has changed, with higher numbers of women in the labor market and an increase in two-income households. Florida International University reported that over 70 percent of the women in Florida are in the labor force.
In 2017 Republicans and Democrats have introduced bills addressing paid family leave. Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand have re-introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. The FAMILY Act would require all employers, no matter the size, to provide both male and female employees with up to 12 weeks of partial income after the birth or adoption of a child. Eligible employees would be entitled to earn 66 percent of their wages, up to a capped amount. The paid leave would be funded by employee and employer payroll contributions. Republican Sen. Deb Fischer of Nebraska has introduced a bill taking a different approach to paid family leave. The Strong Families Act would create a tax incentive for private businesses who offer paid family leave, but would not require employers to provide paid leave. The incentive would allow employers to receive a 25 percent nonrefundable tax credit for each hour of paid leave offered to qualified employees.
While there seems to be momentum nationwide and broad bipartisan support regarding paid family leave, there is much dispute as to how paid leave policies should be implemented. As a result, movement, if any, on paid family leave on a nationwide scale is likely going to be slow. However, 2017 may see more changes at the state and local level.