D.C. considers country's most generous paid leave policy

Companies offering more parental leave
Companies offering more parental leave

For many American workers, taking time off to have a child or care for a sick family member means not getting paid.

That may change for those who live or work in Washington, D.C.

Local lawmakers are considering a proposal to provide up to 16 weeks of paid leave a year for significant family or medical issues. Any D.C. resident, or any employee of a D.C.-based private company would be eligible.

The bill, which has seven co-sponsors on the 13-member D.C. Council, is being introduced Tuesday.

The legislative process could take months. But if the measure passes, Washington, D.C. will be home to the country's most generous mandated paid leave policy by far. In fact, only three states (California, New Jersey and Rhode Island) have mandated policies and they offer fewer paid weeks.

What D.C. paid leave would cover: Employees covered by the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 could take paid time off for family bonding with a new child or a major personal or family medical issue.

Both "child" and "family" are defined broadly. That means kids an employee is adopting, fostering or assuming guardianship for, and partners with whom an employee has a committed relationship.

During their leave, employees would be paid 100% on the first $1,000 of their weekly wages, plus 50% on their weekly wages above that amount. But a person's weekly benefit couldn't exceed $3,000.

Who would qualify: Any employee working in D.C. the majority of his time or any employed D.C. resident would be covered by the proposed bill.

Employees could take the paid leave early in their tenure if needed. But they would only receive job protection if they've been at an employer for at least six months or have worked 500 hours within a 12-month period.

Who would pay for it: Benefits would be paid out of a fund managed by the city. To finance the fund, private employers based in D.C. would be taxed between 0.5% to 1% of every employee's gross salary.

Sponsors of the bill estimate that the average cost per employee will be $385 a year.

Even though workers won't pay the tax directly, they may do so indirectly. In other words, the employer could factor in the cost of the tax when deciding what to pay employees.

Anybody who works for the federal government in D.C., is self-employed, or who lives in the District but works in another state would be covered by the program but they would have to pay the tax themselves.

Business response: The D.C. Chamber of Commerce has already stated that it cannot support the legislation. It is concerned the additional mandated costs on business "would make the District of Columbia dangerously uncompetitive," the group wrote in a letter to the bill's chief sponsor, Councilman David Grosso.

By contrast, some smaller businesses have expressed support. "The proposed program would allow me to support paid family leave that I otherwise could not afford," Michael Visser of Flying Fish Coffee and Tea, said in a statement put out by Grosso's office.

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