Law Review: The Paid Family Leave
Thousands of dollars in debt, scraping by to make ends meet or steadily working but just getting by, Americans on many levels of the financial spectrum do not have the capacity to take time from their paying jobs, yet familial responsibilities sometimes necessitate taking a break. With tremendous advancements in technology, society and human productivity, life has become somewhat of a race. In the process of advancing our nation’s productivity and increasing the national GDP, the law sometimes fails to ensure that the best interests of constituents are always considered. When there is a new mother or father looking to care for their infant, or a hard worker whose elderly parent needs care, the law takes few precautions to ensure that these people can care for their loved ones without being left behind in the race to success in the workplace.
Aside from the purely financial loss workers suffer, there are also stigmas attached to missing work and penalization in the form of decreased responsibilities given to the caregiver once they return to work. The current legislation makes only feeble attempts to support those who must take a recess from work. The failure to address the fundamental value and necessity of parental leave only further alienate those who must take leave, increasing the stigma associated with taking time off work.
The current federal legislation, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), as codified in 29 U.S.C. § 28, instituted regulations that should allow families the necessary time to care for those in need, yet the law lacks proper protections to ensure families can provide care without substantial financial loss. Major flaws in the legislation include compensation for necessary time off, leave is only available if one’s business has fifty or more employees, and only twelve weeks of leave in a 12 month period. These caveats to the FMLA make the leave unavailable to some, and realistically unattainable for others. Yet, one question persists in the minds of many Americans: Why does this policy get minimal attention from legislators and constituents alike when it impacts almost all Americans?
While some would chalk up the inability to attain paid family leave to partisan politics, Rachel Gillett, in “Why America Doesn’t Have Paid Family Leave,” claims that both sides of the political spectrum agree that there should be some form of paid time off for new parents. The policy proposed by the Democratic Party, the Family Act, would allow twelve weeks of paid family leave. Family members on leave, according to “Policy Recommendation: Paid Family Leave” authored by Lindsay Oncken, will receive two-thirds of their average monthly income for 12 weeks administered by Social Security, and it would be funded by a 0.2 percent payroll contribution by employees and employers. This policy would resolve the problem many workers face when taking unpaid family leave and find themselves unable to financially support the very children they took a leave of absence to care for.
With practical solutions as to who would allocate these funds and where the finances would come from, it seems that this legislation has thought through many of the factors that impede the current FMLA from helping many citizens. However, opposition to the Family Act states that the minimal payroll contribution is far less than what it must be to fund such a program.
Ben Gitis explains that the Family Act’s predicted cost has the potential to demand an immense amount of funding that the government does not seem to have readily available. Gitis’ article “The Earned Income Leave Benefit: Rethinking Paid Family Leave for Low-Income Workers” enumerates a more cost-effective solution to providing paid family leave. Considered the mainstream Republican policy, the Earned Income Leave Benefit would provide subsidies to families below a certain threshold of earned income. This form of legislation would protect the most financially vulnerable citizens, yet it fails to consider that those who make a healthier income do not necessarily have the savings and stability to receive a 100 percent cut to their income for multiple months of necessary leave.
Beginning on Jan. 1, 2018, New York state joined California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. in providing paid family leave to its working citizens. As stated on New York’s paid family leave website, “the number of weeks employees can take will continue to rise through 2021, at which time employees will be able to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected, paid time off to be there for family when they are most needed.” With a less than 0.2 percent payroll contribution and a maximum annual contribution of $107.97, the burden on employees is minimal while the protection has the potential to be monumental. As we look to the four-year phase-in program to institute the New York State Paid Family Leave Benefits Law, federal legislators can look at this as an example, deduce the benefits and failures of the program and decide whether this form of legislation will benefit our nation as a whole.
Photo Caption: Paid family leave is vital for many families across the country.
Photo Credit: everydayhealth.com