Opposing views arose along party lines at a House Oversight and Reform Committee hearing on a bill (HR-564) to broaden federal employee paid leave entitlements for personal or family medical conditions, in addition to regular sick leave available for those purposes.
Democrats and federal unions called the proposal a common-sense next step to expand on a late-2019 law, which took effect last October, allowing up to 12 weeks of paid time over 12 months following the birth or adoptive or foster placement of a child, substituting paid time for unpaid time under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
Under the pending bill, employees could use part or all of those 12 weeks within a 12-month period for the other reasons for which unpaid FMLA time is allowed: for personal medical conditions or those of a spouse, child, or parent; or for certain purposes related to military duty of a spouse, child, or parent.
“While providing access to paid parental leave was critically important and long overdue, it’s just as important to provide access to paid family and medical leave too. Illnesses and military deployments are not events that can be planned for—as we’ve all learned in the past year, illness can strike any of us, at any time,” said chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.
Federal unions voiced similar views and argued that agencies would also benefit by helping them recruit against private sector firms that already offer such benefits as a matter of their own policies even though there is no national requirement that they do so.
However, the top Republican on the committee, Rep. James Comer of Kentucky, criticized the bill as “more benefits for federal employees who already enjoy job security and a lavish set of benefits not afforded to most American workers.” Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., the ranking GOP member of the government management subcommittee similarly said the bill would “give federal employees more time off on the backs of American taxpayers.”
Sponsors have several potential options for trying to move the bill even in the face of such opposition, including attaching the language to a “must-pass” measure. They used that technique both to gain enactment of the parental leave authority and of a later fix to extend that benefit to certain categories of employees inadvertently left out of the original version, in each case adding the language to the annual defense spending bill.