In recent years, candidates for federal office across the political spectrum have expressed their support for expanding assistance to employees who need to take leaves of absence from work due to illness, the birth of a child, or certain family obligations. Despite this rhetoric, there has been little movement at the federal level to provide paid leave benefits to employees in these situations. This inactivity has not stopped a growing number of states from enacting their own paid leave laws.
In the past several years, the list of states mandating such benefits has expanded to eleven, plus the District of Columbia. Most of these laws establish a payroll deduction system where employers and employees fund leave benefits. A few states, such as New York and Rhode Island, pay for the leave exclusively through employee contributions. The paid leave benefits are capped, both in terms of length and maximum weekly payments, usually based on a percentage of employee wages. Most of these states also provide that the leave is job-protected, meaning that employers cannot terminate the employment relationship simply due to the employee’s absence.
As more states add these benefits, employers with operations in multiple jurisdictions face a patchwork of compliance obligations. A uniform federal paid leave law could harmonize these requirements across the U.S., but currently, there appears little momentum in Congress for overcoming policy objections to any such expansion of employee entitlements.