In a bipartisan deal that was heralded by Ivanka Trump, civilian workers employed by the Federal government might soon receive 12 weeks of paid parental leave. The US government is the largest employer in the country, employing 2.1 million people, and now these workers have access to paid time off when a new child enters their home.
This new policy would specifically allow Federal workers to take 12 weeks of paid time off after either having a new child, adopting a new child, or fostering a new child. Unfortunately, this new policy would not apply to people who have suffered a personal injury or need time off for family caregiving, which is something supporters of this policy have also been requesting. These two changes may be made down the line in a future policy change.
The paid parental leave policy, which is officially known as the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, was included in the National Defense Authorization Act for the Fiscal Year 2020, which was passed by Congress and signed by President Trump last month.
The National Defense Authorization Act is massive, with a budget of $738 billion. The Federal Employee Paid Leave Act alone is estimated to cost roughly $1.3 billion each year. This act is the first update in federal family leave policy since 1993, when the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed. This previous act gave federal employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, as well as up to 12 weeks off for personal illnesses or for caring for a sick family member.
“With the first change made to paid parental leave since the early ‘90s, it will be fascinating to see how America will continue to evolve regarding time off for its workers,” says Attorney Matthew Lott of Lott Law Firm. “With this new policy going into effect on October 1st, 2020, time will tell if it is the beginning of more alterations, or simply a one-off adjustment.”
However, not every civilian worker will have access to this new paid parental leave. In order to be eligible, a person will need to have worked for the Federal government for at least one year and be able to return to work for whatever amount of time that was taken off. If they do not return to work or are unable to work the length of leave taken, they will have to reimburse the Federal government for their paid parental leave. Any worker who does not meet this year long threshold will not be able to take advantage of paid parental leave.
During the vote on the bill, nearly 100,000 federal workers will be exempt from this new policy, mainly those working for the FAA and the TSA, due to a last-minute technicality that Pennsylvania Pat Toomey (R-Leigh) is being criticized for. Toomey wanted his colleagues to agree on a tax cut bill in order to get his vote for paid parental leave. However, many people hope that a fix for this technicality will come in the near future and workers at both of these organizations will be able to use paid parental leave.
Papua New Guinea and the United States are the only two countries in the world that do not offer any paid parental leave to federal workers. Furthermore, the unpaid time off given in 1993 only covered 60% of federal workers. This is because firms with fewer than 50 employees (who are contracted by the federal government) are not obligated to provide unpaid time off due to an exemption in the original legal language.
While this new paid parental leave policy could help millions of Americans, people still argue that the current landscape could be better for the average worker as well. Currently, only 19% of U.S. workers have access to paid family leave of any kind through their employer, with 40% of these people receiving paid parental leave via employer-provided temporary disability insurance. Allowing 2 million more Americans to have access to paid parental leave will make a difference for millions of families. But there is still room for companies in the private sector to offer similar paid parental leave benefits to their employees.