Seattle’s own Erica C. Barnett takes a closer look at recent paid family leave plans passed by Seattle and King County, and finds the city provides as little as four weeks guaranteed time off, while the county guarantees 12 weeks but requires long-term employees to exhaust as much as 10 weeks of their sick leave, reducing the actual parental leave time to two weeks:
Under the county system, new employees would benefit substantially more than workers with more tenure, because they would get 12 weeks paid leave no matter what. For example, a worker who had accrued two weeks’ vacation and sick leave would get to keep that leave and take 12 weeks off to care for a new child, no questions asked. However, given the long tenure of most county employees, and the speed with which county workers rack up leave (the average accrued leave, according to the county executive’s report on the proposal, is 460 hours, or just shy of 12 weeks), the parental leave policy would function largely as a way to spend down accrued employee hours, at minimal ($2.9 million) annual cost to the county. The caveat to that, of course, is that newer workers are more likely to be younger, and new parents (at least new mothers ) are usually under 40.
The city’s policy, by the way, has exactly the inverse impact. New workers, who haven’t accrued much leave yet, get to take the least time off (potentially only four weeks total, as guaranteed by the new policy), and more-tenured workers can take as much time as they have accrued. A city employee who has accrued, say, 16 weeks of leave could take up to 20 weeks off—four plus his vacation and sick time.
Each is better than the previous policy of no parental leave at all. But neither meets the international standard of 12 weeks of paid parental leave, period, on top of sick and vacation time. (As the county executive’s report on the program notes, “The United States stands virtually alone in not mandating paid leave of any type for its workers.”) The city’s provides as little as four weeks guaranteed time off; the county guarantees 12 weeks but requires long-term employees to exhaust as much as 10 weeks of their sick leave, reducing the actual parental leave time to two weeks.
Differences like this are exactly why we need a statewide family and medical leave insurance plan that guarantees similar benefits to all workers. The Washington Work and Family Coalition is working with champions in the legislature to assure all workers have access to paid family and disability leave through the FaMLI Act. Key elements of the FaMLI Act are:
- Provide up to 12 weeks to care for a new child or seriously ill family member, and 12 weeks for the worker’s own serious health condition;
- Provide benefits of 2/3 weekly pay;
- Pay for benefits through payroll premiums of 0.2% paid by workers and matched by employers (less than $2.00 per week for the typical worker).