A new United States defense spending bill is paving the way for paid parental leave for federal workers, which could be one small step toward a national program.
First reported by The Wall Street Journal, the provision will provide 12 weeks of paid parental leave, and will include birth and adoptive parents, as well as foster parents.
So far, it’s unclear if the provision will include paid leave to care for an ailing family member. An early version of the bill in the House, introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., did include that element.
The move will expand the government’s paid parental leave program to all federal workers, putting them on even footing with military members who already receive 12 weeks of paid parental leave.
“Congress’ bipartisan approval of this policy is yet another example of the incredible momentum of paid leave in our country,” said Debra Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, in a statement. “Just six years after the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act was first introduced in Congress, six additional states and the District of Columbia have enacted statewide policies, voters across the political spectrum are in near-unanimous agreement that we need a comprehensive national policy, and a growing list of employers have established voluntary policies.
“Now the nation’s largest employer can be added to that list.”
Read more: Envisioning Paid Parental Leave
“For a country that is supposed to be a world economic leader, we lag so far behind on the issue of paid parental leave for employees,” said Jon Hyman, partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedman & Lewis. “When Iraq and North Korea offer better benefits to workers than we do, we are doing something very, very wrong. The provision for paid parental leave for federal workers in the new defense spending bill is a great first step, and hopefully a signal that the expansion of this guarantee to the private sector is not that far off. No one should have to choose between the family and their job, and this type of law helps make that choice a non-reality.”
As to what it means for the future of a national paid parental leave program is not yet for certain. But it could mean that a federal mandate is not far behind. If that’s the case, human resources departments should be on alert.
“This paid leave program will encourage private employers to offer richer leave of absence benefits in order to recruit and retain top talent,” said Lindsay Lloyd, PHR, CEBS, a senior consultant at Leave Solutions. “Savvy HR professionals should keep an eye on these trends and prepare for the increased complexity of managing employee leaves.”
Employment law attorney Jeff Nowak, a shareholder at Littler Mendelson, cautions that passage of national paid leave still "faces an uncertain future."
"States certainly have moved the needle on paid sick and family leave, which puts some pressure on the federal government to take action," Nowak said. "However, we've seen nothing but gridlock at the federal level and, except for an occasion comment by President Trump in support of paid parental leave, there is little to indicate that Congress — and specifically a Republican-controlled Senate — is prepared to act on this type of legislation."
The provision is reportedly supported by the White House. In exchange, Democrats agreed to include a measure that will provide a runway to launch the Space Force program as a separate military branch within the Department of the Air Force.
About the Author
Stephanie N. Rotondo is the managing editor of Workspan.