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Bill to Expand Paid Family Leave Benefits for Feds Introduced in Senate

Measure would grant federal workers up to 12 weeks of paid family leave for illnesses and other situations not covered under 2019 parental leave law.

A group of four Democratic senators last week introduced legislation to provide federal employees with up to 12 weeks of paid family leave per year to handle illnesses and other circumstances not covered in paid parental leave benefits passed into law in 2019. The new legislation mirrors a bill already under consideration in the House.

The Comprehensive Paid Leave for Federal Employees Act (S. 1158), introduced by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., would provide 12 weeks per year of paid leave to deal with a personal illness, to care for a family member suffering from illness, or for time off in connection with a family member going on or returning from active military duty. The benefit would be available to all federal workers, including employees of the legislative branch and the U.S. Postal Service.

The bill mirrors House legislation introduced in January by House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. The House previously passed the bill in 2019 as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act, but during negotiations with the Republican-controlled Senate, the provision was narrowed to only provide feds with 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

“The current public health crisis has shown us why it’s so important to have strong paid leave policies, but our current laws are still forcing federal workers to make the impossible choice between caring for their families and keeping their jobs,” Schatz said in a statement. “Our bill will provide federal workers with 12 weeks of paid leave, giving them the time they need to take care of their own health and their loved ones.”

Federal employee unions quickly endorsed the bill’s introduction in the Senate last Friday.

“Providing federal employees with 12 weeks of paid leave to address all circumstances currently covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act would improve quality of life for workers while making the federal government a more competitive and attractive employer,” said Everett Kelley, national president of the American Federation of Government Employees. “Congress took a critical first step two years ago when it passed legislation providing federal workers with 12 weeks of paid leave for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. This new legislation would extend that benefit to cover all FMLA leave . . . Employees would not need to exhaust their sick and annual leave before using this benefit.”

National Treasury Employees Union National President Tony Reardon said the federal government should be a model employer and institute “compassionate” workplace policies like paid family leave.

“Federal employees are middle-class workers and too often they are forced to sacrifice their paycheck and take unpaid leave because of an extended medical crisis,” Reardon said. “Sen. Schatz’s legislation would provide our nation’s civil servants the financial stability to stay home when they are needed the most. The new paid parental leave program has been life-changing for federal employees around the country who need extra time at home to care for their growing families, and expanding the program to cover serious medical issues would be equally significant.”

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