If one of your parents suddenly gets sick, could you afford to take time off from work? What if you had a baby? Sure, you could take the time, but would your paycheck keep rolling in? Many Americans can confidently say “yes” to these questions, but most cannot. A new piece of legislation aims to change that.
The FAMILY Act is a bill introduced today in the U.S. Senate calling for universal paid family leave. If passed, the law would require U.S. companies to offer their workers paid leave for childbirth, spousal support, and personal medical reasons.
These payments wouldn’t come right out of the company’s bottom line. Under the proposed law, workers would make small contributions to a federal trust fund that would fund the paid leave.
Currently, firms with more than 50 employees are legally required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave to workers who become new parents. While many companies go the extra mile to offer paid family leave, there’s nothing legally requiring them to do so. In fact, the U.S. is unusual among developed countries in not offering the benefit. And it’s precisely this imbalance that Senator Kirsten Gillibrand aims to level out with the introduction of the FAMILY Act.
Gillibrand’s office has the support of some big names in corporate America. Google, Morgan Stanley, Vice, and Kinko’s have all endorsed the bill, citing its advantages not just for individuals, but for business in general.
“When we increased paid maternity leave at Google from 12 to 18 weeks, we discovered it wasn’t just good for mothers, it was good for business, doubling our retention rate amongst mothers,” YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki said in a press release. “I’ve personally benefitted from Google’s policy, but all working families, regardless of their employer or state of residence, deserve the benefits of paid family leave.”
Accompanying today’s announcement of the legislation was a Medium-hosted op-ed from Vice chief operating officer Alyssa Mastromonaco. In it, the former White House chief of staff says that Vice is doing its part by modernizing its own leave policies, but argues that this isn’t quite enough.
But it isn’t good enough that we’re leaving this up to individual companies. Nationally, only 13 percent of American workers have access to paid family leave from their employers. A federal law on the books requires companies with more than 50 employees to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents — basically, your boss can’t fire you taking off work to be with your newborn, but he doesn’t have to pay you a dime while you’re gone. So you’re left to choose between raising your kids and being able to afford them. That’s a pretty shitty choice to have to make.
Only three states — California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — require employers to provide paid family leave. Here in New York, state lawmakers are working on different versions of a potential bill. But something this important shouldn’t be up to the states anyway.