On December 20, 2016, the D.C. Council approved, by a vote of 9 to 4, a wide-ranging new paid leave system that applies to private employers in the District of Columbia. The Universal Paid Leave Act of 2016 is a bill that will allow individuals who work in Washington D.C. to take eight weeks of qualifying parental leave, six weeks of qualifying family leave, and two weeks of qualifying medical leave, and it establishes a 0.62% payroll tax on all D.C. employers in order to provide those benefits. Additionally, self-employed workers can opt-in to the program by paying the tax.
The money from the tax will be collected in a special fund -the Universal Paid Leave Fund- which is to be established by the Mayor. Employees who qualify for the various types of leave will receive up to 90% of their salary up to 1.5 times the minimum wage, and then 50% of their wage above that amount, with a maximum benefit of $1,000 per week. Employees may only use each type of leave once in a fifty-two workweek period.
“Qualifying parental leave” may be taken upon the birth of a child, the placement of a child for adoption or foster care, or the placement of a child for guardianship; “qualifying family leave” may be taken for a serious health condition of the employee’s family member; and “qualifying medical leave” may be taken for serious health condition of the employee. The Act provides a right of civil action for employees to enforce the Act against employers, and forbids retaliation against employees who take advantage of the program.
Though D.C. mayor Muriel Bowser has been critical of the bill and stated after its passage that she would not sign it, it does not require her signature to become law, and even if she were to veto it, providing the votes do not change, the counsel can simply override the veto. Following the Mayor’s action, the bill will go to Congress for a thirty day review period. Unless Congress enacts a joint resolution disapproving the bill (a resolution which would have to be approved by the President), it will become law.
Once the Act goes into effect, the Mayor will have 180 days to promulgate rules and regulations implementing it. Ultimately, the deadline for the payroll tax to be imposed on employers is March 1, 2019, and the District must begin paying the benefits to eligible employees by March 15, 2020—although it is possible that the program could take effect sooner.
The Act does not supersede any other existing laws, including D.C. sick leave laws or the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Leave taken under the Act will run concurrently with any FMLA leave. With the passage of this Act, Washington D.C. joins California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and New York in mandating some amount of paid leave.