By Anne Robinson
In March, we published a blog post on the Fair Leave Act of 2014, introduced by Councilmember Grosso. The legislation provided D.C. government employees up to six 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. During this time, conversation was sparked across the country about the need for men to be more supported as fathers and policies that encourage women to stay in the workplace. This was an area where D.C. could lead.
When the Mayor released his proposed FY2015 budget to the Council in April, we were pleased to read that he included language for a six week maternity or paternity leave for D.C. government employees. This was a follow through on the promise he made during the State of the District speech in February and similar to the language in the Fair Leave Act, but the issue of a fiscal impact was still unclear.
Throughout the budget process, we worked diligently with Chairman Kenyan McDuffie of the Committee on Government Operations and were successful in amending the Mayor’s Budget Support Act language to: expand the language to be for the care of any family member; increase the amount of time from six weeks to eight weeks; and to cite all references and definitions to the D.C. Family Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA) for consistency (see the bottom of this post for the language).
The eight weeks of paid family leave policy for a qualifying District government employee will go into effect on October 1, 2014. The Department of Human Resources (DCHR) is currently working on issuing a bulletin to each agency’s Human Resources advisors to inform them of the law and the leave certification process. They are hopeful that it will be issued by mid-September, at which point employees can submit an application for the benefit for leave occurring on or after October 1. DCHR is also working on a draft rulemaking that will be open for a 30 day comment period in late fall. The eight weeks of paid leave will count against the allotted 16 weeks in a 24 month period of unpaid leave that is currently given under the D.C. FMLA. The bill has no fiscal impact because employees’ salaries are already allocated for on an annual basis, therefore this leave time will not require any extra funding.
The paid family leave beginning on October 1 is a major step for the District of Columbia and we will eagerly track the implementation process and the success of this initiative. Our work is not done until we can expand this benefit to all of our families in the District working outside of government employment.
As we began our research and collaboration with advocacy groups, it became clear that identifying a funding structure to provide paid family leave without creating a new source of revenue would be very difficult. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island each have paid family leave programs that were more easily implemented because of already existing state level payroll and income tax systems. Other jurisdictions offer paid family leave through State Disability Insurance (SDI) funds and temporary disability laws. Unfortunately, the District of Columbia does not have structures like these in place to expand coverage to all residents.
Over the summer, advocates worked with the Department of Employment Services (DOES), in partnership with Mayor Gray, to apply to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for a grant to study the feasibility of a paid family leave program in the District. At the White House Summit on Working Families in June, President Obama announced that DOL’s Women’s Bureau and Employment and Training Administration will make $500,000 available for up to five grants. If awarded this funding, D.C. would be able to assess various aspects of a paid family leave program by estimating the expected costs, benefits, and economic impact; evaluating different models for delivery; and provide an analysis of education and outreach needs. The results of the grant competition are expected early this fall.
There is a major shift happening in national policy and paid family leave is a topic that many organizations are focusing on to support women and families in the workplace. Our office will continue to explore the option for expansion of paid family leave, researching alternatives, having conversations with the business community about the effects of paid family leave on the private sector, and supporting other federal policies that might help us progress toward inclusive paid family leave. This is an area where D.C. can lead, and we plan to!
If a D.C. government employee or HR advisor is seeking information about the law, please direct them to DCHR at (202) 442-9700. The agency has FMLA coordinators who will advise them.
*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.