On March 25, 2009 Representatives Pete Stark (D-CA), George Miller (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), introduced the Family Medical Leave and Insurance Act of 2009 (the “Act”) to provide 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. Although the Act recognizes that the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) has helped millions of employees balance their job and family responsibilities, it notes that many eligible employees are not able to utilize the benefits of the FMLA because FMLA leave is unpaid leave. The Act indicates that of those employees who need a FMLA leave and do not take it, 78% do not take the leave because they can’t afford it. The Act would take effect on January 1, 2011 and apply to periods of leave that commence on or after January 1, 2012.

The Act would: (1) provide all workers with 12 weeks of paid leave over a 12-month period to care for a new child, provide care for an ill family member, treat their own illness, care for a wounded veteran, or deal with the deployment of a family member; (2) provide paid benefits through a new trust fund that would be financed equally by employers and employee (each would contribute 0.2% of the employee pay); (3) progressively tier the benefits so that a low wage worker (earning less than $30,000) will receive full or near full salary replacement, middle income workers ($30,000- $60,000) receive 55% wage replacement, and higher earners (over $60,000) receive 40-45%, with the benefit capped at approximately $800 per week; (4) allow states and businesses with materially equivalent or better benefits to opt-out of the program. The Secretary of Labor would administer the program and have the authority to contract with the states to provide the benefits.

Further, the Act prohibits an employer from interfering with, discriminating or retaliating against any employee for exercising their paid leave rights and provides these employees with a private cause of action. Additionally, the Secretary of Labor would be given investigative authority and be authorized to bring an administrative or civil action against employers.

Frank Del Barto notes that paid family leave continues to be introduced at the federal level. Last year, Representative Stark introduced the Family Medical Leave and Insurance Act of 2008. In 2007, Sen. Dodd (DCT) also introduced a paid family leave bill. With a new administration that initially appears very “employee friendly” and Democratic control, Frank believes that a federally mandated paid family leave program may be implemented in the near future.