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July 16 -- The Women's Bureau of the Department of Labor seeks information from the public regarding paid leave, that is, paid family and medical leave to care for a family members, or for one's own health. Comments are due by September 14, 2020.

The Department is publishing this Request for Information (RFI) to gather information concerning the effectiveness of current state- and employer-provided paid leave programs, and how access or lack of access to paid leave programs impacts America's workers and their families. The Department seeks information about the need for, benefits of, and specific strategies to implement paid leave. Information from members of the general public, employers, employees, and the research community on paid leave policy and practice can inform the Women's Bureau in documenting, developing, and reporting on promising paid leave practices and provide valuable input for state and federal implementation of paid leave policies, including the benefits and costs associated with different approaches to paid leave. The RFI is available at https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/07/16/2020-14874/request-for-information-paid-leave
 
Within the Department, the Women's Bureau's mission is to formulate standards and policies that promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve their working conditions, increase their efficiency, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment. As part of its commitment to promote the welfare and equality of working women, the Department seeks public input regarding paid leave policy.
 
Although the term “paid leave” may be used to refer to different types of policies, for the purposes of this information collection, paid leave means absence from work, during which an employee receives compensation, to care for a spouse, parent, child, or his or her own health. Specifically, paid leave is limited to circumstances such as the following:
The birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
The placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
Caring for the employee's spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition; or
A serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job.
 
In 2019, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that 18 percent of U.S. private sector workers had access to paid family leave through their employers. A number of studies have linked paid family leave of differing types to increases in a mother's likelihood of being employed after childbirth, female labor force participation, and women's wage earnings and work hours. For example, a 2011 Census Bureau report found that women using paid parental leave were twice as likely to return to work within three months, and most returned with similar hours and pay. Whether studies finding benefits from paid family leave merely identify correlation or can develop a causal connection remains the subject of debate.

Some employers believe that paid leave is a valuable tool to recruit and retain talented workers, but the availability of paid leave is mainly concentrated among high-skilled and highly-compensated industries. A 2017 Pew report identified that many workers with household incomes under $30,000 who took leave without full pay for the birth or adoption of a child faced financial challenges as a result.
 
According to the 2012 Department-commissioned report, 59 percent of all workers had access to unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires covered employers to provide eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons, including the employee's own serious health condition; to care for a spouse, son, daughter, or parent who has a serious health condition; the birth of a child; the placement of a child for adoption or foster care; and to care for a newborn or newly-placed child.
 
Some states and localities, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington, have enacted paid family and medical leave laws that provide covered workers with the right to partial wage replacement through a state-run insurance program when they are not working due to their own or a family member's serious health needs or bonding with a new child. Federal employees are now eligible for paid parental leave as well. On December 20, 2019, President Trump signed into law a new paid parental leave policy for eligible federal workers as part of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. These provisions will apply from April 1, 2020 through December 31, 2020.
 
In broad terms, the Department is seeking to understand the following:

The benefits of paid leave, the costs of paid leave, and the measurement of costs and benefits.
The beneficiaries of paid leave and the bearer of the costs.
The unique needs of workers and employers in regard to paid time off for care obligations.
The features of the existing public (e.g., state-administered) and private (employer-provided) programs that work well, reasons those features work well, and features and provisions that make a paid leave program successful for all stakeholders.
The features of the existing public and private programs that do not work well or are burdensome, the reasons why, and any features and provisions that present challenges for stakeholders.
Answers to the following questions: Are there barriers to implementing or improving paid leave? Are there regulatory barriers to providing paid leave? What could be done to improve existing programs, which include state and employer-sponsored paid options? What are the impediments, costs and otherwise, faced in implementing those improvements?
The challenges of balancing costs and benefits with paid leave and the differences in costs and benefits among types and sizes of employers, including small businesses.
 
The Department lists 23 questions to frame the responses. Select questions include:

2. What are the needs of workers and employers when it comes to paid time off for care obligations? What elements of the existing public (e.g., state-administered) and private (employer-provided) options work well? Why do they work well? Are there any features and provisions that make a paid leave program successful for all stakeholders?

3. What does not work well and why; and what are the existing gaps? What could be done to improve the existing patchwork of programs, which include state and employer-sponsored paid options? What are the impediments, costs and otherwise, faced in implementing those improvements?  
 
8. What are the features of an ideal paid leave program, from the perspective of a worker or employer? For example:
i. What would be the ideal duration?
ii. How much pay should be replaced? Should the rate of replacement vary depending on how long leave has lasted?
iii. Should it be permissible to take leave intermittently? Should there be a time period within which intermittent leave must be taken?
iv. Are there other program elements not listed here that are important to consider?
 
Point of contact: Joan Harrigan-Farrelly, Deputy Director, Women's Bureau  RFIpaidleave@dol.gov  (202) 693-6710

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