National paid employment leave program included in proposed American Families Plan

published in McAfee & Taft EmployerLINC | May 17, 2021

Last month, the Biden administration unveiled its American Families Plan, an initiative focused on supporting children and families that includes making investments in education, extending tax cuts to lower and middle-income workers, and making child care more affordable.  

Also included in the plan is a proposal to create a national paid family and medical leave program. Currently, the only law at the federal level governing family and medical leave – such as leave as to care for a new child, care for a seriously ill family member, or recover from a serious health condition – is the Family and Medical Leave Act, and leave provided under the FMLA is unpaid.  Some states, though, have implemented their own laws to offer more than what the FMLA requires, including providing paid leave for these types of situations. 

During the pandemic, the government implemented temporary paid leave for COVID-19-related reasons, including expanding the FMLA to require certain employers to provide paid emergency FMLA for employees who needed to be absent from work to take care of children whose schools or day care facilities were closed due to COVID-19. The White House stated that the pandemic highlighted and exacerbated the need for paid family and medical leave on a permanent basis. The majority of workers in the United States lack access to any paid leave. 

Biden has proposed a national comprehensive paid family and medical leave program to ensure that workers receive partial wage replacement to take time to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill loved one, deal with a loved one’s military deployment, heal from their own serious illness, take time to deal with the death of a loved one, or find safety from sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence.  Some of these types of leave are not currently covered by any law at the federal level for employers. The American Families Plan would guarantee 12 weeks of paid parental, family, and personal illness/safe leave by Year 10 of the program, and also ensure workers get three days of bereavement leave per year starting in Year 1.  

The White House also stated that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for paid sick leave. Currently, there is no federal law that requires private employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. Biden has also urged Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would require employers to allow workers to accrue seven days of paid sick leave per year to seek preventative health care, recover from a short-term illness, or care for a family member.  

The proposed American Families Plan is not law, and it is uncertain whether it will have the support to become law in its current form or otherwise. However, it is important for employers to pay attention to the priorities of this administration. President Biden has his eye on implementing paid family and medical leave and paid sick leave, and McAfee & Taft will keep its eye on this plan and provide updates as this issue develops.