Hundreds of businesses demand Congress expand paid leave: It's 'good for business'

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'When families thrive, we all thrive,' says a letter signed by 200 companies.

Nearly 200 businesses signed a letter sent to Capitol Hill Tuesday calling on Congress to include expanded paid family leave in its next economic package.

The letter urges Congress not to allow the United States to remain "one of only two countries in the world with no form of national paid leave." Signatories include such business titans as Spotify, Levi Strauss & Co., Etsy, Eventbrite, and Patagonia.

"We urge Congress to meet the moment by passing a comprehensive federal paid family and medical leave policy that provides long-term health benefits and economic security to all American families and contributes to the vitality and sustainability of our businesses," the letter reads in part. "We need a policy that is inclusive and that protects all workers equally, regardless of what kind of work they do, where they live, or whom they love. Congress must work with the administration to build a framework for a permanent paid family and medical leave policy, so we're never unprepared for a crisis again."

"Access to paid leave also leads to better retention, personal health, and improved morale, which contributes to greater stability and viability for our businesses, ultimately helping our bottom line," it says. "In short, paid leave is good for business."

Efforts to enact a comprehensive national leave policy have historically been stymied by congressional Republicans.

In 2019, a bill spearheaded by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act, gave 12 weeks of paid parental leave to federal workers in the 2020 fiscal year. It was included in the National Defense Authorization Act and signed into law by Donald Trump.

House Democrats had wanted to expand the legislation to beyond parental leave to paid family leave for workers caring for any family member, but Republicans said such a plan was too expensive, and it was not included in the measure's final version.

Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia said during a House Oversight Committee hearing, "We hear about the support of the National Paid Family Leave and Medical. I get that it sounds wonderful — but at the end of the day there's nothing free and at some point this has an enormous cost associated with it."

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland said after a compromise was reached on the measure, "I will continue to fight for paid family and medical leave for both federal employees and all private sector employees in our country."

While the $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan passed by Congress last month originally containedrevival of 2020's Families First Coronavirus Response Act's mandate requiring employers to give paid pandemic-related medical leave to employees, workers' rights advocates were disappointed it wasn't included in the final version.

Jared Make, vice president of A Better Balance, a policy organization, told Bloomberg Law, "We just marked 500,000 people who have died from COVID-19 and individuals across the country are continuing to die every day. The fact that there's no federal right to paid sick leave for workers in this country is especially shameful at the moment."

But many remain hopeful that President Joe Biden's administration could still roll out a comprehensive paid family and medical leave plan in his upcoming $3 trillion spending package, which will include domestic policies that could codify universal preschool, free community college, and a federal paid leave policy for all American workers.

Congressional Democrats have also made strides toward implementing expanded paid leave programs. In February, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut introduced the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, which would require all employers to offer partial paid leave of two-thirds of a worker's salary for up to 60 days for all employees taking time off for qualifying family or medical reasons.

Sheri Pullen, a senior compliance manager at ReedGroup, which produces absence management software, said at a March conference that Democratic majorities in the House and Senate could finally mean universal paid leave for workers.

"We think we're likely to see success in paid family leave proposals that aren't directly related to COVID," Pullen said.

She suggested that any legislation enacted should include 12 weeks of paid leave with up to 66% of monthly income replaced, as well as payroll contributions by employers to cover medical or caretaking leave taken by employees.

Annie Sartor of the organization Paid Leave for the United States would like to see 80% of wages replaced in a universal paid leave policy, as well as protections against job loss and retaliation by employers. She told the Hill, "The pandemic transformed the politics of paid leave, and the massive surge in business support for leave we see in this [letter to Congress] is one of the surest signs we've seen of that fact so far."

She noted, "The COVID crisis allowed millions of Americans to see how broken our care infrastructure has been for years. This letter makes it clear that the business community isn't just ok with federal action on paid family and medical leave, they want Congress to act right now."

Sun Life Financial Associate Vice President Marjory Robertson told HR Dive it's critical that any federal policy implemented replace the income — and protect the jobs — of any individual taking leave, as well as set a universal federal standard for contradictory state policies on family and medical leave.

"You don't necessarily need to be a giant employer to be impacted by this in this day and age where teleworking is more common," noted Robertson, pointing out that with no federal policy in place, it's nearly impossible for companies with employees in different states to navigate guidelines for paid leave.

Decades of research has shown that countries with universal paid family leave policies have decreased infant mortality rates, fewer child hospitalizations, and increased numbers of mothers in the workforce.

And a study published by the journal Health Affairs in October found that emergency pandemic-related paid leave provided under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which expired Dec. 31, had an enormous affect on virus transmissions rates: In the abstract to the study, titled, "COVID-19 Emergency Sick Leave Has Helped Flatten The Curve In The United States," its authors note:

Compared with the control group and relative to the pre-FFCRA period, states that gained access to paid sick leave through the FFCRA saw around 400 fewer confirmed cases per state per day. This estimate translates into roughly one prevented case per day per 1,300 workers who had newly gained the option to take up to two weeks of paid sick leave.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.