Why it matters: President Barack Obama has turned his attention to employment issues recently, urging Congress to pass legislation mandating paid sick leave and issuing a memorandum instructing federal agencies to advance up to six weeks of paid leave to workers to care for a new child or family member, among other examples. He then reiterated his support during his State of the Union address, saying a paid sick leave law providing seven days of paid sick leave each year is “the right thing to do.” During the State of the Union, the President also called for a wage equality measure, a raise in the federal minimum wage, and the promotion of laws that “strengthen rather than weaken unions, and give American workers a voice.” Facing a Republican-controlled Congress makes passage of the laws an uphill battle for the President, but employers should keep an eye on possible legislation.
Detailed discussion: In a new Presidential Memorandum, “Modernizing Federal Leave Policies for Childbirth, Adoption and Foster Care Leave to Recruit and Retain Talent and Improve Productivity,” President Obama focused his attention on employment issues such as parental leave and paid sick leave. Citing studies about the positive impact of maternity and paternity leave, he said that both men and women “need time to care for their families and should have access to workplace flexibilities that help them succeed at work and at home.”
The United States lags behind “almost every other country” in providing paid parental leave to its federal workforce, the President added. “My Administration fully supports efforts to align the Federal Government with the parental leave policies of leading private sector companies and other industrialized countries, and will continue to take administrative steps to modernize leave policies to better support Federal employees,” he wrote.
He then directed agencies to offer 240 hours of advanced sick leave “at the request of an employee and in appropriate circumstances, in connection with the birth or adoption of a child or for other sick leave eligible uses,” to be provided irrespective of existing leave balances. Similarly, agencies should offer the maximum amount of advance annual leave permitted by law for foster care placement or bonding with a healthy newborn or newly adopted child.
Less than a week later, the President addressed both houses of Congress and returned to the issue of paid sick leave. Noting that 43 million workers in the country do not have paid sick leave, he instructed lawmakers, “Send me a bill that gives every worker in America the opportunity to earn seven days of paid sick leave.”
Several jurisdictions have already enacted paid sick leave measures, including California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C., as well as multiple cities in both California and New Jersey and Seattle.
In his remarks, the President also called for paid maternity leave, equal pay legislation, overtime, and, in a repeat of last year’s State of the Union, an increase in the federal minimum wage.
“Of course, nothing helps families make ends meet like higher wages,” President Obama said. “That’s why this Congress still needs to pass a law that makes sure a woman is paid the same as a man for doing the same work. It’s 2015. It’s time. We still need to make sure employees get the overtime they’ve earned. And to everyone in this Congress who still refuses to raise the minimum wage, I say this: If you truly believe you could work full-time and support a family on less than $15,000 a year, try it. If not, vote to give millions of the hardest-working people in America a raise.”
To read the Presidential Memorandum, click here.
To read the text of the State of the Union address, click here.