national family leave act

Some of the hardest choices many of us face involve how we care for our loved ones. Do we put our newborn in daycare so that we won’t lose the job that supports them, or stay home with them and slash our budget? Do we stay by the hospital bedside of an ill spouse, or go to work so that we won’t lose the employer-provided health insurance that pays for their care? Unfortunately, without paid family leave, these dilemmas are all too common. A national family leave act under consideration in Congress could change that.

A national family leave act would be a new development in the United States, but paid family leave is long established in most parts of the world. Around 180 countries already offer workers paid family leave; the United States is one of fewer than a dozen nations that do not, along with Somalia, Suriname, and some island nations in the Pacific. Some countries, such as Japan and Norway, offer new parents at least 52 weeks of paid time off to care for and bond with their new child.

Enacting a national family leave act would be a significant feat that could change the lives of millions of Americans for the better. What would a paid national family leave act look like, and how might it benefit you?

Paid National Leave Legislation in Congress

The national family leave act making its way through Congress, would, even if passed, leave the United States behind many countries in terms of paid family leave. Still, it could relieve many of the hard decisions families face at times of stress or transition.

The need for family leave has been highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with people facing agonizing decisions: stay home to care for a sick spouse and risk losing the family’s only income, or go to work and risk exposing others to a potentially deadly illness? The details of the plan are not yet fixed, but it would likely include twelve weeks of paid family and sick leave for most American workers.

Under a current formulation of the family leave plan, the average worker would get about two-thirds of their wages replaced for a maximum of twelve weeks per year; that wage replacement would be capped at $4,000 per month. The lowest paid workers might see approximately 80% of their wages replaced. And not only full-time workers would be eligible for wage replacement; part-time employees and even self-employed individuals would likely qualify as well. In addition, workers could receive partial wages for up to three days of bereavement leave. There is currently no national policy for bereavement leave.

Why Paid Family Leave Matters

As noted above, workers often find themselves pulled between obligations to work (and the need for income and benefits) and to their families. Despite the fact that people may manage to function without paid family leave, it is clear that many families would fare much better with a little help at the right time.

The proposed national family leave act would allow workers to:

  • Spend time with a new child who has joined the family through birth, adoption, or foster care;
  • Care for a seriously ill family member, including relatives by marriage;
  • Address issues that arise from a family member’s military deployment or serious injury;
  • Recover from their own serious illness or a medical procedure.

People could use the proposed paid family leave to deal with postpartum depression or any mental health issue. They could use it to bond with a new child. Bonding with a new baby is important, and so is just spending time with a foster or adopted child who has been through trauma. Parents could keep their children home from school at the first sign of illness (preventing the spread of illness) rather than sending them in so that the parent doesn’t have to miss their shift at work. Without the financial pressure that comes with unpaid leave, employees would be able to take the time they need for their families, not just the time they can (barely) afford.

In short, what the new legislation would do if enacted is bring U.S. policy more in line with our nation’s stated values. We claim to value families and children, but as things stand, workers must often choose between being present for their family members or providing for them. We tell people to take care of their health, but place them in a financial position in which they don’t have the time or ability to fully heal.

We don’t yet know if a national family leave policy will become a reality in the United States, but we consider it a hopeful sign that Congress is considering one. If we can answer any questions for you about your family’s needs, please contact Mundahl Law to schedule a consultation.

Categories: Children