Comprehensive paid leave is a hot topic at the moment. The rapidly-developing situation regarding COVID-19 is affecting workers in a number of industries as offices close for an indeterminate amount of time and school district closings now have millions of children needing supervision during a time of the year when parents are typically planning spring break and sports.
The stress the illness is causing to the American workforce highlights more than ever the need for the government to provide leadership on a comprehensive paid leave policy that touches on sick leave and family support systems. Hourly or salary, in cities across the country, working parents are facing hard decisions on coordinate childcare while ensuring their own mental and physical health and that of aging parents. The breakdown in our system will have ramifications for years to come, and private companies cannot bear the responsibility on their own.
Emergency family and medical leave expansion
On Saturday, March 14, the House of Representatives passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act that has provisions for emergency family and medical leave expansion, emergency paid sick leave and tax credits for paid sick and paid family medical leave. Currently the bill is reported to have support from the Trump administration, but the Senate has not yet voted to forward the bill on to the President.
Historically, federal laws regarding worker’s rights have touched on topics like discrimination through Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act (1963) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990). Guarantees regarding paid leave vary from state to state, with only eight states and the District of Columbia having laws regarding paid family and medical leave as of January 2020.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (1993) (FMLA)“entitle eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons” which amounts to 12 weeks in a 12-month period. No current federal law mandates a specific paid leave plan for private companies; for federal employees, a new law allowing for 12 weeks of paid leave goes into effect Oct. 2020.
With the presidential election coming in November, paid family leave has been a topic of much debate among Democratic candidates. The two remaining candidates have shared their perspectives: Joe Biden has indicated support for paid sick and family leave but didn’t give specifics on the amount of time workers should receive and Bernie Sanders endorsed a plan that six months of paid leave.
The current Families First Coronavirus Act expands on the current FMLA through the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act which allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks job-protected leave due emergency needs related to COVID-19. However, the first 10 days of leave are unpaid. After that, an employer must provide pay equal to no less than 2/3 of the employee’s regular pay with a cap at $200 per day or $10,000 over the entire FMLA leave period.
The bill also contains the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act, requiring private companies with fewer than 500 employees to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave for full-time employees and paid sick leave for part-time team members equal to the average number of hours that worker has over a 2-week period. The reasons for the leave must be related to quarantine/self-isolation of self or family member, to seeking a diagnosis or to comply with the recommendation or order of public health official or health care provider. An employee can also use the leave to care for a child whose school is closed due to coronavirus. The rules of the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act go into effect 15 days after the bill is enacted and run through the end of 2020.
The plan wouldn’t apply to all workers, but it would be a good start to providing a support system for workers who currently feel as though they aren’t able to follow doctor’s orders to stay home for fear of losing pay.
At Kanarys, we believe that paid leave, for all the reasons a person would need to use it to support themselves and/or family members, is essential to creating an inclusive workplace that helps everyone perform their best. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act is a great start as the government begins moving the needle on ensuring that all workers, not just highly educated, white collar professionals, have a system that allows them to both raise a happy, healthy family and continue to earn a living. We need to do even more, and Kanarys will use its platform to give workers a voice in highlighting the companies that are doing the best work in diversity and inclusion.