One of the proposals that President Barack Obama will discuss at the upcoming State of the Union address is the White House’s new initiative to support paid leave for employees. The initiative has several components, including the following:
The Healthy Families Act: The Obama administration is supporting proposed legislation entitled “The Healthy Families Act,” which would require employers with 15 or more employees to allow employees earn at least 1 hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, up to a maximum of 56 hours per year. Given the current Republican control of the House and Senate, however, it is unlikely that this legislation will pass in the near future.
Paid Parental Leave for Federal Workers: On January 15, 2015, President Obama signed a memorandum directing federal agencies to agencies to allow federal workers to take up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family members. The federal agencies will be required to advance the paid sick leave to employees who have not accrued a sufficient amount of paid leave to cover the absence.
Paid Leave Funds for State Workers: The President’s budget for 2015 will propose allocating $50 million to a State Paid Leave Fund for the Department of Labor to provide competitive grants to states to help them launch paid leave programs for state employees.
By providing paid leave to federal employees and encouraging state governments to do the same for state employees, the White House’s new paid leave initiative is intended not only to offer paid leave to government employees, but also to increase market pressure on private employers to offer competitive benefits. In Minnesota, the City of St. Paul recently began offering paid parental leave to city employees, and Minneapolis is considering adopting a similar policy. Other cities that offer paid parental leave to employees include Chicago, Illinois, San Francisco, California, and Austin, Texas.
Paid leave legislation is also possible at the state level.  Several states – such as California, Connecticut, and Massachusetts – have recently passed laws requiring certain employers to offer paid leave to employees.  So far, this legislation has not passed in Minnesota, but it has been discussed as a potential follow-up to last year’s Women’s Economic Security Act legislation.
Takeaway: Although federal legislation requiring private employers to offer paid leave is unlikely in the near future, the federal government as well as some state and local governments are implementing paid leave programs with the goal of increasing the pressure on private employers to adopt similar policies.  Employers should continue to monitor these efforts as well as state legislation concerning paid leave.