State Legislators Say They Want to Hear from HR on Paid Family Leave

 

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​From left, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Vice President of State Strategies and Engagement Robert Carragher moderates a discussion between Virginia Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, and Delaware Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, at the 2019 SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference.

​More states are considering paid-family-leave bills, and lawmakers said they want to hear from human resource professionals about how these laws might affect the workplace.

"When there are bills related to employment law … you really need to reach out to your legislators," said Delaware Rep. Ruth Briggs King, R-Georgetown, at the 2019 Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Employment Law & Legislative Conference on March 18. "You might say, 'What are you thinking?' 'What are you doing?' or 'We're here to help.' "  

While many workplace issues haven't moved at the federal level, state lawmakers across the country have been considering paid family leave, minimum wage, predictable scheduling and other laws that will have an effect on the workplace. "Never neglect your state legislatures," said Virginia Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria. "The hard work gets done in your state capitals."

Ivanka Trump participated in an earlier session at the conference to discuss the initiatives of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which she co-chairs. She has advocated for passing a paid-family-leave law at the federal level.

Support for paid leave is growing. Eighty-two percent of Americans who responded to a 2016 Pew Research Center poll said they think new mothers should have access to paid leave, and 69 percent said new fathers should have the same. And employer paid-parental-leave offerings have increased significantly from 2016, according to SHRM's 2018 Employee Benefits survey.

A federal law addressing paid family and medical leave would be particularly helpful for multistate employers by ensuring that matters were handled similarly in all states, King said. "We certainly like to have state sovereignty," she added, but "it would be nice if some of these decisions were made at the federal level."

Levine said state lawmakers will continue to push for paid family leave. If the federal government doesn't act, "we will," he said.

Debating the Details

California was the first state to provide paid family and medical leave in 2004. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington state and Washington, D.C., followed suit in recent years. However, each state offers—or will offer—a different amount of leave time and wage replacement. For instance, Rhode Island pays about 60 percent of wages for up to four weeks and has a weekly maximum payout of $795.

In 2018, Delaware passed a paid-family-leave law that will apply only to public employees and cover 100 percent of wages for up to 12 weeks following the birth or adoption of a child. King said she was "a little disheartened by the language" in the bill. As a human resource professional herself, King has had to administer leave, and she had some practical questions that she said weren't properly addressed by state legislators. She wished that Delaware lawmakers had more conversations with the people who administered leave and understand the associated challenges.

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Develop and Administer Paid Leave Programs]

Although the Delaware law covers only public-sector employees, King noted that many large employers in the state realize that offering paid family leave is a good recruitment and retention tool and are voluntarily offering such benefits.

Levine supports a paid-family-leave bill that was introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates this session. Republicans currently control the state legislature, but Levine expects that a paid-family-leave measure will pass if Democrats take the majority.

"So if you have a view on it, you need to let me know," he said, inviting HR professionals in Virginia to reach out to him. 

The bill in its current form would provide up to 12 weeks of wage replacement at 70 percent of the employee's average weekly income.

"I'm not wedded to any specific proposal," Levine said. If companies aren't already offering paid-family-leave benefits, they will eventually be required to do so. "I'd much rather work with you than against you," he said.

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