by Anne Robinson
This week, Councilmember Grosso along with Councilmembers Catania, McDuffie, and Wells introduced the Fair Leave Act of 2014. The bill was referred to the Committee on Government Operations. The intent is to provide government employees up to 6 weeks of paid leave in connection with the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child, or the care of a family member who has a serious medical condition. By offering 6 weeks of paid leave for a government employee, we actively invest in families by supporting early childhood development, the health and welfare of residents, the retention of women in the workforce, and the vital role that parents play. I think that 6 weeks of paid leave is a very small price to pay for outcomes that have such a diverse impact.
Currently, the District of Columbia Family Medical Leave Act (D.C. FMLA) allows for all persons working for businesses with 50 employees or more to receive up to 16 weeks out of a continuous 24 month period of unpaid leave to care for a family member in the event of a birth, adoption, fostering, or illness. A family member is a person related to the employee by blood, legal custody, or marriage; a child who lives with the employee; or a person with whom the employee has shared a home with in the same year. The D.C. FMLA unpaid leave allows for 4 weeks longer than the federal FMLA. The definition of “family member” is inclusive and reflective of whom we label and identify as family here in the District. The law includes safeguards for the employee’s position and benefits during a period of unpaid leave and also protects the interests of the employer.
We believe that amending the D.C. Code to allow for 6 weeks of paid leave will have positive impacts on education, health and welfare, and human rights in our city.
Councilmember Grosso serves on the Committee on Education and he hears the testimony from parents and teachers alike about their concerns for the educational development of children. He is also involved in analyzing the District’s need for universal pre-kindergarten programs that start as early as three years of age to ensure that we are reaching the children who are not getting basic skills at home that help them to be school-ready. Studies have shown that beginning at birth, care-takers in the home foster the necessary development of communication, empathy, curiosity, creativity, and confidence. These are just some of the fundamental traits that children need to develop prior to beginning pre-school and kindergarten programs. When parents can nurture language and literacy starting from birth a child is better prepared both physically and emotionally when they enter school. When we provide parents with the tools they need to teach their children we set into motion foundations for a child’s future success.
Councilmember Grosso also serves as a member on the Committees on Health. From meetings with nurses, health care providers, and patient advocates we are constantly discussing ways that we can broaden and ease the recovery process for those who are ill and in need of care. One way to do this is to offer paid leave for a new mother to stay at home with her infant child so that she can recover from the delivery without the fear of the financial burdens that an individual or family faces when they must take leave from work. The average time to heal from the birth of child is 6 weeks, but that is under the best of circumstances. Recovery from a surgical cesarean delivery, complications from the delivery, or post-partum depression can increase the need for leave time. It is vital that our city provides high quality health care and assistance to low-income residents of the District who need it. If a parent has to choose between working and staying home with a new child it can delay regular well-baby checks-ups or immunization schedules, which is a serious public health concern.
Gender Roles and Balance
As gender roles in our society shift, the roles of men and women in the household are also changing. Positions and opportunities for women in the workplace are evolving while at the same time women must strive to be perceived as equal to their male counterparts. Women do not want to face employment setbacks for being pregnant or taking time off. This legislation gives either parent the benefit of taking time off to care for a family member without the fear of lost positions or wages. The legislation also promotes the necessary role that fathers and secondary caretakers play in their child’s development. When the government supports fathers to stay home with a newborn, studies have shown that this solidifies their involvement in the long-term care of the child. This bill acknowledges that not only is the man’s employment position or salary relevant, but also his involvement and concerns as a parent. We recognize that there is a great diversity of families and this bill is designed to be inclusive of all family structures.
The United States ranks second from the bottom, runner up to Pakistan, for paid maternity and paternity leave. Norway and Canada top the paid leave charts with four months of paid government leave for both parents. Even though our economic structure and system of government do not function the same way as these countries, it might be time to consider the economic benefits that can be gained from providing paid leave. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island all offer 6 weeks of paid leave for all employees, which is funded through a payroll tax. The state of Washington passed paid leave legislation and is currently working on their budget for the program. In July 2013, the U.S. Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee approved a fiscal year 2014 spending measure that includes $5 million to support a new State Paid Leave Fund. The fund will provide planning and implementation grants to states wishing to establish paid leave programs and provide benefits to workers who need to take time off for reasons covered under FMLA.
Mayor Gray indicated in his State of District speech that he would also be introducing similar legislation that would allowed for 4 weeks paid leave for the primary caregiver and 2 weeks for the secondary caregiver. These are all signs of progress and we hope the District of Columbia will be next on the list to offer a similar benefit.
To offer District government employees 6 weeks of paid leave is economically sound. By having this policy in place, we will attract more qualified employees to work here and we will encourage the mothers to return to the workplace. By granting flexibly and time to recover and bond, parents will feel less pressure about their financial situation. And by having parents who are able to stay at home with the concern of financial burdens lifted they will be able to focus on the child. This concept loops us back to better public health, stronger families, and promoting the basic education and skills a child needs starting from birth to be healthy and school ready.
*All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.