Can 200 employers spark a federal leave mandate?

Employers from Etsy to Pinterest are urging U.S. lawmakers to put permanent paid family and medical leave into Biden’s COVID relief plan.
By: | March 24, 2021 • 3 min read

Close to 200 employers, including Etsy, Levi Strauss & Co. and Pinterest, are calling on lawmakers to enact federal paid family leave, as companies enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic that shed light on inadequacies in paid family and medical leave and programs for caregivers in the workforce.

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Private-sector employers on Tuesday wrote to House and Senate leaders asking them to pass permanent paid family and medical leave through the Biden-Harris administration’s recovery package.

“We cannot emerge from this pandemic and remain one of only two countries in the world with no form of national paid leave,” the letter reads. “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.”

Jamie Kalamarides

Jamie Kalamarides, president of Prudential Group Insurance, considers a national paid leave program as a foundation for fixing paid leave problems for the American workforce.

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“The only way to solve the paid leave crisis in our nation is through a permanent, sustainable, universal paid leave program that is accessible to every worker who needs it, including those employed by small businesses,” Kalamarides said Wednesday.

Following the 2020 election, Colorado became the 10th state, along with Washington, D.C., to enact laws requiring employers to offer paid time off, according to KFF. Advocates for years been calling on lawmakers to create a national-level paid leave policy to end the patchwork of laws that exist today.

A universal federal program could reduce the burden for HR administrators if it includes a federal exemption from the patchwork of state requirements and if existing private insurance options are allowed, Kalamarides said.

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“Unfortunately, without these attributes, it will be difficult to see permanent legislation garner enough bipartisan support to ultimately get passed,” he added. “We believe a solution that might garner bipartisan support is a public-private partnership because it could accommodate existing private sector leave programs that meet specified standards while providing a public option for employees of organizations whose programs do not meet those standards.”

Even with current laws, only 17% percent of employees had access to paid leave through their employers in 2018, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A recent report by PL+US found 75% of businesses support a national paid leave plan.

Working parents have been a priority for many employers during the pandemic, with many firms beefing up programs and benefits to help. Bank of America, for instance, launched a multi-pronged program to help its working parents in the midst of the pandemic. That program—which included childcare reimbursement—was set to expire on Aug. 15, but the banking giant later extended the effort through the end of 2020. Twitter, Sun Life U.S. and John Hancock launched virtual camps for their employees this summer to help working parents keep children busy.

A number of employers in recent years expanded their paid-leave benefits to better support employees. Intel enhanced its leave policies for new parents, caregivers and grieving employees, while the J.M. Smucker CompanyGoldman Sachs, Pilot Flying J and The Washington Post were among the companies that expanded paid-leave benefits for new parents.

Nick Otto is HRE’s senior digital editor. He is a professional communicator with more than a decade of demonstrated accomplishments in newspaper and trade publishing. He has spent the past five years covering the employee benefits space and holds bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. He can be reached at notto@lrp.com or follow him on twitter @Ottografs.