A patchwork of state and local laws focusing on paid leave for employees emerged around the country in recent years. Companies know generous policies attract top talent. Workers have challenged some policies in court.
There’s heightened awareness for paid leave, with even Ivanka Trump championing measures. Some businesses suggest compliance with the eight states—including California and New York—and 30 local districts that have passed paid leave laws creates a burden. Advocates for workers’ rights stress the importance of offering such a safety net.
“The American people have embraced the need for paid leave policies as a core economic issue,” said Rep. Gregorio Sablan, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Health, Employment, Labor, and Pensions. “Workers should not be forced into economic hardship in order to take care of themselves or their families. Our federal laws must provide guaranteed benefits to help working people balance work and family.”
In 2016, only 13 percent of private-industry employees had access to paid family leave through their employers, 37 million workers did not earn a single paid sick day, and approximately 41 percent of hourly workers received their work schedules only seven days in advance.
Yet, Republicans and Democrats suggested contrasting ideas on how to address the issue of whether employers should offer paid leave at a hearing Wednesday by the U.S. House Education and the Workforce Committee.
A bill by Rep. Mimi Walters, R-California, would exempt businesses from state and local paid leave taxes if they provide a certain level of paid leave such as flexible work requirements.
Ivanka Trump pushed for paid leave as a central issue and stressed a mandate, rather than such a proposal. Democrats on the committee echoed the need to not override the state and local laws with any federal proposal and otherwise to require companies to provide leave.
Barbara Brickmeier, vice president for human resources and business development at IBM Corp., said overlapping state and local paid leave mandates provide stress and compliance headaches for companies. Brickmeier testified to the committee on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
She said she opposed a federal mandate, but a framework where companies could follow would be preferable. She said IBM has been a leader in offering generous paid leave policies in order to attract talent.
Hans Riemer, president of the Montgomery County Council, strongly disagreed with the corporate-backed proposal, arguing that it would override the local laws such as in his Maryland county and give employers the freedom to opt out.
“The proposal will turn back the clock,” Riemer said. “It’s an escape hatch from local law.”
He said, rather, a federal mandate would ensure all workers had the right to sick leave. He said the unemployment in the county is low and it continues to attract businesses.
It appears to be a time for heightened awareness of unequal leave policies.
New York’s paid leave law is set to take effect Jan. 1.
Large companies have come under fire recently for their parental leave policies, targeting specifically gender-based policies that require the mother as the primary caretaker over the father. One lawsuit targets JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s policy. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission targeted Estee Lauder for its parental leave policy, as well.