1. Why does D.C. need the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015?

The Universal Paid Leave Act would allow workers to care for themselves and their loved ones when major life events arise. Paid family medical leave helps families and  workers to be healthier and happier. For businesses, the legislation allows them to retain talented and dedicated employees, while avoiding the high costs and lengthy processes associated with staff turnover and on-boarding. A robust paid family and medical leave program will give D.C. employers a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining highly qualified workers.

2. What would this legislation mean for employees?

The bill would cover up to 16 weeks of paid leave annually for a qualifying event (family bonding or personal/family medical issues).  100% of an employee’s wages will be replaced for the first $1,000 of her or his average weekly salary and then 50% thereafter up to $3,000 a week.

Example:  Your annual salary is $50,000.  You are a new father and want to take time off to be with your adopted child.  You elect to take off 8 weeks and qualify to take leave after applying and having your eligibility verified. Your average weekly salary is $961, so you will receive that full amount for the entire 8 weeks.

3.  Who is covered by the proposed legislation?

All District of Columbia employees are eligible for paid family medical leave if they are residents of the city or spend more than 50% of their time working for an employer in the city. Employees are eligible to receive payments from the family medical leave fund at the start of employment. However, employees are only eligible for job protection after six months or 500 hours of work in a 12-month period. 

4. What are the responsibilities of an employer?

An employer pays a percentage (estimated 1% or less) from payroll for each employee into the government managed family medical leave fund. The fund administrators will be required to verify and process claims and will then pay the employees directly. The fund administrators would also handle any related investigations or appeals.

5. How will the proposed legislation be funded?

The Universal Paid Leave Act creates a city-managed fund financed by an employer-based cost-sharing model. Similar to Unemployment Insurance, all D.C. employers (except the federal and local government) will pay up to 1% of payroll into the fund. This fund would be administered by the D.C. government—keeping the burden off of employers—and the fund size will have  a maximum limit.

6. What is the difference between paid sick days and paid family medical leave?

Paid family medical leave is different than paid sick days. It would be used only for birth or adoption of a child, or for a major medical event. The estimated average cost per employee paid by the employer will be $385 annually and that amount will cover the employee for up to 16 weeks of paid leave—far less than paying directly out of pocket which will give businesses the opportunity to offer competitive benefits packages.

7. Is the employer required to hold the employee’s job during leave?

Yes, the D.C. Family Medical Leave Act standards provide 16 weeks of job protection that is unpaid. The Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 proposes to extend job protection to employees who have worked for 6 months or 500 hours in a 12 month period. 

8. What if all the staff at a small business take leave at the same time?

We do not underestimate the effects that long-term leave has on businesses, but this is unlikely to be a problem—nationally only 13% of workers take family medical leave annually. The bill aims to enable workers to take the time they need to care for themselves or family members when the situation arises and then return to work at full capacity. The ability to retain talented and dedicated employees, and avoid the high costs and lengthy processes associated with staff turnover, makes paid family medical leave good business, no matter a business’ size.

8. What if I reverse commute or my employer is not mandated to pay into this fund?

If your employer is not required to pay into the fund, then you, as a resident, will pay into the system on your own behalf thereby enabling you to receive benefits when you become a parent or personal or family medical situations arise.  If you are a self-employed individual then you are automatically enrolled in the system to pay into the fund and receive the benefit.

9. What other jurisdictions have paid leave?

New Jersey (2008), California (2002), and Rhode Island (2013) have income tax-based family leave and temporary disability insurance policies that cannot be implemented in D.C. because of federal Home Rule restrictions on taxing income. We have, however, learned from the strengths and challenges with these programs and have incorporated their best practices into the D.C. legislation.  Globally, the United States lags behind other countries that all offer some form of paid leave for their citizens.