A new national bipartisan legislative effort is using an incentivized approach to push more employers to offer paid family and medical leave to their employees.
Introduced in the Senate (S.2618) and as a companion bill in the House of Representatives (H.R.5173) in July, the Strong Families Act stipulates that the employer will receive a 25% non-refundable tax credit for each hour of paid leave provided.
U.S. Sens. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Angus King (I-Maine) introduced the paid leave proposal to serve as an extension of the Family and Medical Leave Act to encourage employers of all sizes to provide leave options to their employees, regardless of whether they are full-time or part-time.
Currently, the FMLA mandates that employers provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees during any 12-month period. It applies to employers both public and private with 50 or more employees. Meanwhile, under this current proposal, all employers will be eligible. However, in order to receive the tax credit, companies must offer at least four weeks of paid leave and cannot retaliate against their workforce for participation.
Drew Crouch, director of government relations at Buck Consultants at Xerox, explains this new legislative effort is really taking the carrot approach, as opposed to the stick.
Its really something that would appeal to more employer-friendly, conservative politics, Couch tells EBN. He adds that most employers will likely be open to the incentive, barring some minor tweaks to their current leave policies in order to qualify for the stipend.
Anne Weisberg, senior vice president for strategy at Families and Work Institute, states that its not surprising that these bills have popped up during a time that President Barack Obamas administration has focused directly working families and anti-discriminatory policies.
For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor recently released guidance last month on its plans to extend the reach of the FMLA to all eligible employees in same-sex marriages.
Weisberg explains this legislative alternative to paid leave policies may help to turn the tide in favor of more family leave options.
It could help employees and employers create a more stable, less stressful workplace but like any policy, issues like preventing retaliation and promoting usage have to be promoted at workplaces themselves, says Weisberg.
The Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit that researches the changing workplace, family and community, says that flexibile work schedules for full-time employees saw an increase from 50% to 67% since 2008. But, employers offering leave for career breaks related to personal and family reasons have dropped down to 52% from 64%, according to its 2014 national study of employers, performed in conjunction with the Society for Human Resource Management.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, only three states offer paid family and medical leave: California, New Jersey and Rhode Island. Also, Connecticut is the only state that has required employers offer paid sick leave to employees. At the city level, big cities such New York, Jersey City, N.J. and Newark, N.J. have approved or revamped their paid sick time policies recently.
Another option may be a complete overhaul of the FMLA to require paid leave, but Crouch notes that is probably not possible. Equally unlikely is the passage of this new paid family leave proposal, he says.
If were going to have a system where we do paid leave, lets just amend the FMLA and lets require a paid leave, he states. But this [legislation] is far more indirect, and if this goes to whether this would pass, I think the answer is no, because its probably going to be pretty expensive.
When asked whether the tax credit will incentivize employers to offer paid leave to their employees despite their size and situation Weisberg says he believes that the jury is still out on the most effective process.
There are several proposals for how to finance paid leave, and we have not researched the benefits of one financing proposal over another, Weisberg notes, but adds that companies that offer paid leave have found that it can work very well for both employers and employees.
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