Just weeks after pushing for paid family leave during his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden announced he is proposing to fund a new federal paid family and medical leave program—a plan that would have significant implications for employers if it comes to realization.
Recently, Biden released a $6.8 trillion budget plan for fiscal year 2024, which contains a $325 billion commitment to a comprehensive, permanent paid family and medical leave program. The proposed program would provide workers up to 12 paid weeks off to bond with a new child, care for a family member or heal from their own serious illness. It also includes up to three days of paid bereavement leave. “To support working parents, my budget … invests in paid family and medical leave, so we will no longer be the only major economy without national paid leave,” Biden said in a speech.
At a Feb. 2 press conference marking the 30th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Biden called for extended support for time-off benefits and announced he had signed a memorandum laying out a national program of paid family and medical leave for employees. The memo also set out how federal agencies are to lead the way with expanded paid and unpaid leave for their workers. Shortly after, during his State of the Union address on Feb. 7, Biden again reiterated his support for paid family leave, saying: “Let’s also make sure working parents can afford to raise a family with sick days, paid family and medical leave, and affordable child care that will enable millions more people to go to work.”
“Far too many workers do not have access to paid leave in times of illness or crisis, leaving families struggling to earn a living and care for loved ones,” Emily Dickens, chief of staff and head of public affairs at SHRM, said in a statement released March 13. “SHRM is hopeful President Biden’s budget, coupled with the work of Congress’ new task force on paid leave, will lead to progress on this critical issue.” SHRM said it proposes a voluntary federal insurance market that “allows employers to fund paid leave benefits by tapping into pooled resources, which would increase worker access to paid leave while reducing risk to individual employers.”
Employees, too, have called for enhanced leave benefits for years. Paid leave for family and medical matters is a highly desired benefit coveted by workers. A December 2022 survey from insurance firm Unum found that paid family leave was among the top three noninsurance benefits U.S. workers most want and would trade other ancillary benefits in return.
The U.S. is one of only a few wealthy countries in the world that does not guarantee paid leave at the national level, though some states and cities have enacted their own family and medical leave laws. At least 145 countries provide paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses, with 127 providing a week or more annually. 98 countries guarantee one month or more of paid sick days. According to the Center for Economic Policy and Research, the U.S. is the only fully developed country that does not guarantee paid sick leave in any capacity.
What are the benefits of paid leave FMLA?
Workers with paid family/medical leave are better able to address their own health issues, and both routine and urgent family issues, without having to quit a job or risk being fired. In addition, some workers would be willing to forgo higher wages in alternative jobs in order to maintain a position that offers paid family/medical leave, thereby reducing voluntary job separations and increasing job stability for both the worker and the business.
Parental leave improves both the parents and child’s health by decreasing postpartum depression, improving mental health, increasing time spent with a child, increasing the likelihood of child medical checkups, therefore, increasing overall wellness of the family, resulting in less days absent from work overall for preventable illnesses related to missing wellness checks. When workers do not have access to such leave, they are less likely to accommodate the health needs of children, even newborns and infants. The children of our current workforce are our future generations of the workforce, caring for the well-being of the current worker evolves into caring for the well-being of the business’s future workforce on a long-term level.
Although paid parental leave is highly desired by workers, it’s not extremely common. The most recent employee benefits data from SHRM, for example, found that 33 percent of employers offered their employees some paid parental leave in 2022. That number is down from the 39 percent that offered some paid-leave time in 2020. Paid leave for adoption or foster care is even less common: 28 percent of employers offered adoption leave in 2022, while just 22 percent offered leave for foster care. Meanwhile, just 31 percent of employers offered paid leave to care for an immediate family member in 2022, according to SHRM.
Written By: Elizabeth Callahan, SHRM-CP