Is Paid Family Leave Inevitable in the U.S.?


People living in each of the 35 OECD countries, except the United States, all have access to paid family leave for maternity. Dozens of those countries go above and beyond maternity to offer paid family leave for other purposes, including illness and medical emergencies. So why does the U.S. stand alone in not offering paid family leave? And more importantly, is paid family leave inevitable in this country?

The answers to both questions are a bit more complex than they might appear. Still, it is worth exploring them. According to BenefitMall, a Dallas-based company offering payroll processing and benefits management solutions, business owners would do well to start paying attention to the discussion now. It is entirely possible that efforts to mandate paid family leave in the U.S. will soon begin in earnest.

  • Why It is Not Available

Paid family leave is currently unavailable thanks, in part, to a compromise between Congress and the private sector back in the early 1990s. If you are unfamiliar with the compromise, you need look no further than the Family Leave Medical Act of 1993 (FLMA). It was this piece of legislation that mandated employers provide workers up to 12 weeks’ unpaid time off to address the birth of a new baby or a health condition affecting themselves or a family member.

Businesses in the U.S. were against the FLMA, for obvious reasons. They lobbied to have the legislation include language allowing employers to not pay those who took family leave with the understanding that such a strategy would be the only tool employers would have to prevent abuse. Congress agreed, and the rest is history.

Employers maintain today that not paying medical leave is still the only means they have of keeping it in check. They fear that a mandate to offer paid family leave will open the door to abuse in the same way sick time and personal days are already abused.

  • It May Be Coming

Both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama made a point of restarting the discussion about paid family leave during 2016’s campaign. Yet despite the election of Donald Trump and the Republican Party maintaining control of both the House and Senate, Democrats have not been afraid to address paid family leave. Two senators, one from New York and the other from Connecticut, recently reintroduced legislation that failed to gain approval in 2013.

If the legislation is ever voted on and passed, it will mandate companies with 50 or more workers pay up to 66% of a worker’s salary for a maximum of 60 working days of paid leave. The government would subsidize the payments through an additional payroll tax split between employers and employees.

Supporters of the bill say this model takes the burden off businesses by not costing them anything out-of-pocket. But such an assertion is not true. A payroll tax still costs money.

  • Another Reason to Outsource

It could be that the proponents of paid family leave will use it as a carrot to entice lawmakers who might need their votes for a particular piece of legislation. Seeing how divided both the Congress and Senate are, it seems very likely that the carrot will be dangled at some point. That means paid family leave could very well become a reality in the next few years.

The thought of mandatory paid family leave is yet another reason to consider outsourcing payroll processing. An outsourcing provider like BenefitMall has the resources, knowledge, and expertise to keep up with regulatory changes as these occur. They could make compliance with paid family leave a lot easier.