Federal workers would be eligible for paid leave for more reasons under this House bill

Jan 29, 2021
In The News

Rep Maloney speaks at a congressional hearing

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) says she is confident her bill on paid family leave will become law.) (Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images)

Federal employees would be eligible for paid leave up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period, including personal or family medical conditions and obligations related to a spouse, child or parent being called to active military duty, under a bill introduced Thursday.

Most federal workers already may take up to 12 weeks of paid time within 12 months of the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. But only unpaid time is allowed for the other purposes.

Enactment of paid parental leave in 2019 represented one of the most substantial expansions of federal benefits since the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993. But sponsors say the new bill is needed to fill in where that law fell short.

Sponsor Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said that she is optimistic the bill will become law — either on its own or attached to another — two decades after she first proposed paid family leave. During that time, the House twice passed bills allowing for lesser amounts of paid family and medical leave time for federal employees, but the Senate did not act on them.

“You can see changing attitudes with so many women at the table,” she said in a telephone interview. “I think there’s an acceptance of family issues, work-family balance, the reality that it takes two paychecks in most families to raise a child.”

She added, “I also feel that the federal government oftentimes leads the way in social issues, and I’m hopeful that this bill, when we pass it, will be a model for the private sector to move forward with a national standard on family support issues.”

However, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, the ranking Republican on the Oversight Committee, said “the Democrats’ massive expansion of paid leave is ripe for fraud and abuse and provides those with job security a brand new swath of benefits.”

“The Democrats’ priorities are incredibly distorted given that many small businesses are struggling and millions of Americans are unemployed,” he said in an emailed comment.

Under the bill, the total amount available for all purposes would remain 12 weeks within any 12 months; use for one purpose would reduce the amount available for another.

Other initial sponsors include Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.), chair of the Appropriations Committee; Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chair of the Armed Services Committee; and several House Democrats from the Washington area.

The bill represents the latest in a series of actions dating to late 2019 when the paid parental leave benefit was first enacted as part of a defense-spending bill.

When that benefit took effect Oct. 1, certain categories of employees were excluded because that law applied only to employees covered by standard civil service laws. That left out employees at agencies including the Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration, and the U.S. Postal Service, as well as many medical personnel in the Department of Veterans Affairs.

A second defense bill, enacted at the end of 2020 when Congress overrode then-President Donald Trump’s veto, retroactively covered those initially left out except for postal employees. The new bill would make postal employees eligible for paid time for both parental and other purposes.

Under the bill, the paid family leave would apply only to those eligible under FMLA, which requires at least one year of federal employment and excludes temporary or intermittent employees.

Before invoking paid FMLA medical leave, agencies could require proof of the need for the leave, but employees would not have to use any of their other paid leave first.

Full-time federal employees accrue 13 sick leave days per year with no limit on carrying forward unused leave. Amounts of annual leave (vacation time) vary from 13 to 26 days depending on years of federal employment. Limits apply to how much can be carried from year to year, 30 days for most employees.

Employing agencies would have to cover the additional cost through their regular appropriations; no cost estimate has been done. The Office of Personnel Management last year estimated the value to employees of the paid parental leave benefit at between $890 million and $1.3 billion a year.

Maloney and other sponsors said enacting the bill would make the government a more attractive employer and reduce costs of replacing employees who otherwise would leave.

“If you don’t have to lose an employee because they have a personal health emergency, you can keep people on board, you can strengthen the government and at the same time take care of the people who work for us,” Smith said in a conference call with reporters.

“Many of the private sector companies we are competing with actually already provide more” paid family leave than the bill would provide federal employees, Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) said. “If we’re not providing the kinds of benefits that are available in counterpart private sector entities, we’re going to have a lot of problems recruiting the workforce of the future in the federal government.”