The Senate has dealt a setback, although maybe not a fatal one, to prospects of federal employees gaining paid leave for parental and other family-related purposes.

The Senate rejected on a 48-47 vote a “motion to instruct” its conferees on the DoD authorization bill (HR-2500, S-1790) to accept language in the House’s measure to change from unpaid to paid the 12 weeks per 12 months leave entitlement under the Family and Medical Leave Act.


However, employee organizations are stressing that of the five senators who didn’t vote, four are Democrats who favor paid family leave. Had they voted, a majority of senators would have supported the motion, even if the fifth, a Republican, voted against it, they say. They also found it significant that four Republicans crossed party lines to join Democrats who were unanimous in supporting it.

The Senate did approve an alternative sponsored by Republican leaders which said the conferees should examine “common sense solutions” to achieving paid family leave in general, including use of compensatory time and tax incentives. It is unclear what impact that might have in the federal workplace and whether such language would even be enforceable elsewhere; the DoD bill commonly sets personnel policies for the entire federal workforce, not just those at that department, but not policies of private sector companies.

In any case, the conference between the two chambers will ultimately decide before bringing out the bill for final voting. The DoD bill is considered one of the few annual “must-pass” pieces of legislation and could be taken up as soon as later this month.

Under the House provision, the same employees who are now eligible for the unpaid leave—generally meaning those with at least one year of service—could take the paid time for the same purposes for which they now may use unpaid time, including for birth, adoption and foster care placement, to care for a spouse, child or parent with a serious condition, for a personal condition that makes the employee unable to work, and for needs arising from the fact that the employee’s spouse, child, or parent is on, or has been called to, active military duty.

The pay for parental leave entitlement would take effect for births, adoptions and foster placements occurring after September 30 of next year; the pay entitlement for other purposes presumably would take effect on the bill’s enactment, although that is not specified.