As part of the national trend to pass state and local laws guaranteeing private-sector workers paid leave for family and caregiving responsibilities, Washington, DC is poised to join California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Washington state in offering this benefit. And I’m not alone in saying: it’s about time. A study conducted by the Pew Research Center found that Americans largely support paid family and medical leave, including leave for new mothers (82%), new fathers (69%), and workers who need to care for themselves (85%) or a seriously ill family member (67%). Furthermore, the majority of paid-leave supporters believe that employers should foot the bill.
Back in 2015, this blog looked at the District of Columbia’s Universal Paid Family Leave Act of 2015. Under that law, DC workers were scheduled to receive up to 16 weeks of paid leave for the birth of a child or other qualifying family or medical event, beginning in July 2020. Although the law was passed, the battle for paid family leave did not end there, and efforts continued to cut the law back, create loopholes, and even repeal it altogether.
Out of that battle came the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016 (DC Law 21-264), an update to the Paid Family Leave Act. It provides private-sector employees in DC with 8 weeks of paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child, 6 weeks of paid leave to care for a seriously ill family member, and 2 weeks of leave to attend to one’s own serious health condition. Cumulatively, an employee may take 8 weeks total in a 52-week period. Intermittent paid leave is also possible, as long as it doesn’t exceed these totals. The Act also makes retaliation unlawful: an employer cannot deny someone their rights under the law, or retaliate against someone because they request, apply for, or use paid leave benefits.
Under the 2016 Act, people earning up to 150% of the DC minimum wage, which will be $15.00 in 2020, will receive 90% of their average weekly wages (up to 40 times 150% of the DC minimum wage) when on leave, and those who earn more will receive an additional 50% of their remaining average weekly wages, up to a cap of $1,000 per week. (The Department of Employment Services has published a weekly benefit calculator here.) The current law provides that the benefits will be funded through a 0.62% tax on all DC businesses—although DC councilmembers have indicated that tweaks to the law are still possible before the tax begins in 2019 or administration of benefits begins in 2020.
To help defend the UPLA, you can sign up to volunteer with the DC Paid Family Leave Campaign, or sign the petition. If you have questions about how the new law will affect you, speak with an experienced employment attorney about your specific circumstances.