On December 20, 2016, the DC City Council voted in favor of the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act (“Paid Leave Act”), a bill granting generous family and medical leave benefits to employees working in the District. If enacted, the bill would be one of the most generous paid family and medical leave programs in the country. Rhode Island, New Jersey, California and New York also have adopted paid family and medical leave legislation.
Under the Paid Leave Act, private employers will be required to provide the following categories of paid leave:
- eight weeks of paid time off to new parents,
six weeks of paid time off to employees caring for sick relatives, and
two weeks of paid time off for an employee’s personal medical leave.
Leave will be funded through a 0.62 percent payroll tax on all private DC employers, regardless of size. Employers who already offer paid leave programs are not exempt from the tax. The payroll tax proceeds will be deposited into a fund run by the District government, which will administer the benefit payments.
Under the Paid Leave Act, the city will replace 90 percent of an employee’s first $900 in weekly pay and 50 percent for any additional wages, with a maximum weekly payout of $1,000 per week. This means that any employee making less than $46,000 annually will be entitled to the 90 percent reimbursement. Employees making more will receive the 50 percent reimbursement for all wages in excess of the $46,000 threshold.
Mayor Muriel E. Bowser has expressed concerns regarding the Paid Leave Act’s $250 million estimated annual cost and the fact that the majority of eligible workers live outside of the District. Mayor Bowser has stated that she will not sign the Paid Leave Act, but has not yet stated whether she will veto it. Nevertheless, without the Mayor’s signature, the Paid Leave Act will pass automatically and the Council could – and likely would – override her veto (if she chooses to exercise her veto power). If the Mayor vetoes the bill, the Council has 30 days to override the veto. If the bill passes, Congress will review the bill and must approve or reject it within 30 legislative days (days when at least one Chamber is in session).
Under the Paid Leave Act, tax collection must begin by March 1, 2019 and employees will be able to use paid leave by March 20, 2020. The District plans to use the intervening time to create an agency to administer the new regulations.
The Paid Leave Act entitlements are distinct from other forms of leave that DC employers must already provide. Currently, under the DC Sick and Safe Leave Act, private employers with fewer than 25 employees must offer employees up to three days of paid sick leave every year; employers with between 25 and 99 employees must offer up to five days; and employers with more than 100 employees must offer up to seven days. Workers also are entitled to 16 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave under DC’s Family and Medical Leave Act within a 24-month period to care for a sick relative or newborn and 16 weeks of unpaid leave during the same 24-month period due to their own medical conditions.