This year’s presidential race may go down as one of the most polarizing elections in the history of the United States. In only a matter of days, voters will head to the polls to decide whether to elect Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, and the country will be left in angst waiting for the results. While it’s been a whirlwind of a race that has dominated the media, both campaigns brought many important issues to the surface for discussion.
One of these matters includes paid family leave, a topic that has come up more recently along with equal pay and gender inequality. In fact, data from a new study from the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report found that paid family leave could help lessen the pay gap while allowing both women and men to continue working at higher-paying jobs. With or without Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the need for reform has been a long time coming.
Dissecting Each Candidate’s Proposal
Before we dive into the impact of each candidate’s paid family leave proposal, let’s take a deeper dive into the specifics. For instance, Hillary Clinton’s proposal for paid family leave is better for employees, as it provides a paid leave benefit for those who may need time off for various family situations and for a longer duration of time. Clinton’s plan would ensure employees up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave with at least two-thirds of their wages up to a capped limit. The paid family benefits would be available to employees who are new parents, are caring for a family member with a serious illness or injury, or are suffering from their own serious medical issue. Funding for Clinton’s plan would come from increased taxes on the wealthy.
Alternatively, Donald Trump’s plan provides for six weeks of paid maternity leave for new mothers after childbirth when the new mothers’ employers do not provide paid leave, offered through the unemployment insurance fund and paid for with savings resulting from eliminating fraud in the unemployment program. Trump’s plan, however, only benefits mothers after childbirth. This plan does not provide paid leave for new fathers, new parents through surrogacy or adoption, or employees who made need paid time off for other personal or family medical reasons.
The Aftereffect and What You Need to Know
Many parents cannot afford to take time off without job and benefits protection from their employers and some level of income replacement. At the federal level, there have been three family leave bills introduced in Congress by Democrats over the last few years. Seen as expensive and unfriendly to employers in the Republican-controlled Congress, these bills stalled. The upcoming election will not only decide our next president but may change the balance of power in both houses of Congress. Bills that were proposed that could return in some form include:
- Healthy Families Act – Allows employees of an employer with 15 or more employees to earn seven days of sick time per year after 60 days of employment to use for family and medical reasons.
- Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act – Creates a trust fund within Social Security to collect fees and provide compensation for employees on approved FMLA leaves.
- Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act – Extends FMLA coverage to employees at worksites with 15 – 49 employees (FMLA applies to employers with 50 or more employees today), including part-time workers. The bill would also extend eligible parental and family leave reasons for leaves.Today, a handful of states mandate paid family leave, with a number of other states considering similar programs. With heavy competition for talent as a primary factor, more companies are offering generous paid leave programs to attract and retain skilled employees.
A global survey conducted by Ernst & Young found that one-third of the respondents reported that managing work-life has become more difficult, with younger generations and parents hit hardest. The report also revealed that millennials worldwide “are more likely than other generations to cite paid parental leave as a significant benefit.”
When adopting more generous leave policies, it’s crucial for organizations to ensure that these policies fit the company’s culture and align with the organization’s work style. Flexible leave policies, whether paid or unpaid, will not achieve the desired effect if the formal policy allows employees leave time but the unwritten cultural rules stigmatize them for taking the time off. Without that supportive culture, employees may feel pressured to take shorter leaves than they need and then consider other career options where the company’s policies align with the work environment.
It’s Time for Change
We remain the only country in the industrialized world that does not legislate any form or length of paid family leave at the national level. According to the Department of Labor, only 12 percent of private-sector workers have access to paid family leave in the United States. With technology and large companies leading the way by offering generous paid parental leave to attract and retain employees, other industries competing for talent are following. SHRM’s 2015 Employer Benefits Survey cited that 21 percent of employers offered some paid maternity leave in 2015, while 17 percent offered paid paternity and adoption leave, up from 12 percent in 2014.
While both candidates support some form of paid family leave, their approaches are very different. The fact that both candidates have plans for some kind of additional paid family leave without having employers fund the benefit is a good first step. Not only is paid family leave on their radar, but it’s garnering traction at the business level, specifically across the industries vying to attract and keep the most talented employees, which is ultimately helping to drive paid family leave forward.