Opinion: Protect federal workers; pass paid leave
For too many years, the United States has stood out as one of the only countries in the developed world without a national paid family leave policy. Since the start of my time in Congress over 20 years ago, I have been fighting to make America’s paid leave policy something that we could be proud of. In December 2019, Congress finally passed my paid parental leave bill as part of the defense authorization package; and on Oct. 1, 2020, those decades of hard work finally began to pay off in a tangible way — with some big help from my colleagues. That is the day that the United States government began providing paid parental leave for more than 2 million federal employees, guaranteeing America’s federal workers up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave.
This historic achievement will provide some security to the hardworking people who keep our government running, such as the health care workers taking care of our veterans and public health specialists fighting the coronavirus pandemic. But we have more work to do.
Today, I am introducing the Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act, which would provide federal employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave not only for parenting, but also for personal illness, illness of a family member, or in circumstances related to a military deployment of a family member. Employees of private companies may already be familiar with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which entitles eligible workers to take unpaid time off for these reasons. My bill is an important next step in the pursuit of extending paid family leave to every worker across the country.
The U.S. government is the largest employer in the nation. We should be the model employer and set the standard for family-friendly policies. As chairwoman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, I am deeply committed to ensuring that federal employees can count on a fair workplace where they can serve their country without worrying about the time needed to care for themselves and their family members.
No one plans to fall ill. Many of us will encounter family illnesses, become caregivers for elderly parents or sick children, or struggle with health issues ourselves at some point in our lives. As the country continues to endure the deadly coronavirus pandemic, access to paid family and medical leave has never been more critical.
At a congressional hearing on this issue in 2019, my committee heard from a teacher who recounted her struggle to keep her family afloat financially when her son was diagnosed with cancer. Sadly, such stories are all too common in this country. In the midst of a family medical emergency, no one should have to worry about keeping their job or missing a paycheck.
Paid family leave keeps our country’s workforce healthy and secure. It’s also a smart policy for employers. By providing comprehensive paid family leave, the government will become more competitive in recruiting and retaining a talented workforce. Paid family leave increases productivity, helps close the gender wage gap, and improves gender parity in workforce participation.
The bottom line is that paid family leave is a critical investment in our federal workforce. It will keep families healthier and more stable and put the federal government in a stronger position to provide the security and essential services that Americans depend on every day.
I believe that the benefits of enacting comprehensive paid family and medical leave speak for themselves. In fact, studies in states that have implemented paid family and medical leave programs have found that employers largely see the policy as beneficial to their business. Taking this step forward for federal employees gets us closer to setting a nationwide standard that gives all employees — regardless of where they work — access to paid family and medical leave.
Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney serves as chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. She represents New York’s 12th District.