Congress moves to expand feds’ paid leave options

congress-moves-to-expand-feds’-paid-leave-options

Federal employees would be able to take paid time off for personal or family medical issues under new legislation introduced in the House Jan. 28.

The Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act would offer 12 weeks each year for federal employees to use to care for an ill family member, their own serious medical condition or the needs of a family member soon to be designated to active duty military.

The bill expands on the paid parental leave rights guaranteed to federal employees as part of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2020. The original legislation crafted to establish paid parental leave would have also included family and medical leave needs, but the ultimate language for that legislation was pared down to only include a new child entering the family.

“Our frontline heroes risking their lives during this pandemic shouldn’t be forced to choose between caring for themselves or sick family members and putting food on the table,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., on a Jan. 28 press call on the bill.

“I’ve fought for two decades to ensure that our federal workers have the resources they need to take care of themselves and their families while serving our country. Today’s legislation is an important step to making decades of hard work a reality.”

Currently, federal employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for personal or family illness, though losing out on income during that time can be prohibitive to many that would otherwise need the time off.

“For many federal employees, unpaid family and medical leave is just not a viable option. They cannot afford to sacrifice their income when a loved one falls ill,” said National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon on the press call.

“No federal worker should have to choose between a paycheck or caring for a sick loved one. But too often workers are put in just that position,” said American Federation of Government Employees National President Everett Kelley.

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In addition to the fact that both chambers of Congress are controlled by Democrats, who have generally supported such paid leave legislation, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic may also lend strength to the argument that paid leave for medical purposes is necessary.

“It will help to alleviate the COVID crisis,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. “A recent study in Health Affairs found that emergency paid leave provisions in current law helped reduce COVID infections by about 15,000 per day. We need a permanent solution to a problem that has existed long before the pandemic.”

Such legislation would not only stop employees from coming into the office when seriously sick, but also ensures that the federal workforce as a whole — which could face a staffing crisis with 31 percent of the workforce eligible to retire in the next year — would retain employees who may otherwise leave to find better benefits or to care for a family member long term.

“Not acting disproportionately hurts women and many communities of color,” said DeLauro, explaining that women have disproportionately had to leave the workforce to assume caretaking responsibility for ill family members during the pandemic.

According to Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Va., the federal government already has a hard time competing with the private sector for talent and lagging behind on such paid leave options will only make that competition harder.

In fact, many members of Congress on the call said that, as the largest employer in the world, the federal government should be leading the way in medical leave offerings, and success for federal employees could motivate the passage of legislation that guarantees such paid leave for all workers.

All federal employees that are currently entitled to unpaid leave would be able to access the new paid option, and the bill specifically outlines eligibility for feds that were unintentionally left out of the paid parental leave bill before it was later corrected.

Much like the unpaid leave requirements, a fed only becomes entitled to the paid medical leave after they have worked for the government for at least 12 months, and a single employee may only take 12 weeks of paid leave for any reason within a 12-month timeframe.

Employees would not, however, be required to exhaust their annual leave before making use of family and medical leave.

Feds must provide 30 days of advance notice before taking such leave, unless an emergency situation makes that notice impossible, in which case they must notify their agency as soon as is practical.

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Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.

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