This post has been updated to reflect provisions of the latest version of the legislation:
A majority of the D.C. Council co-introduced a measure on Oct. 6 to make D.C. the most generous place in the country for paid family leave. The details could change as the legislation is debated, but as introduced, it would allow 16 weeks of paid family leave for most residents in the nation’s capital. If the measure passes, here are five questions and their answers to help you know whether — and when — you could benefit:
Could both mothers and fathers take paid leave?
Yes. As introduced, the measure would be gender neutral, allowing mothers and fathers to take 16 weeks of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child. The District already requires employers to protect a man or woman’s job for 16 weeks if they take unpaid leave, but few can afford to take that much. Experts say the legislation, if passed, could greatly expand the number of new mothers — and fathers — who take time off after the birth or adoption of a child.
What would it pay and what would it cover?
Under the proposal, D.C. would go further than any state for new parents, offering 100 percent of pay for those making up to $52,000 a year. Employees who earn more than that would be eligible for $1,000 a week plus 50 percent of their additional income, up to a maximum of $3,000 per week.
Covered workers could also take leave to care for a dying relative, for personal medical leave or for a variety of family needs related to the deployment, return or medical or psychiatric treatment of a member of the military.
Would my employer have to participate?
There are two key issues at play here. One is whether you work for a private employer or the federal government, and two (and more importantly) is where you live.
If you work for a private company, the answer is categorically yes. Under the proposed legislation, all private employers in the District would have to pay fees into a new fund to provide workers with paid family leave. Unlike the city’s current family leave law, the proposed legislation provides no exclusion for small businesses.
If you work for the federal government (or for employers outside the District), D.C. cannot compel your employer to pay taxes for you to participate in the new system.
But , as written, the legislation would mandate that all employed District residents participate. So, if an employer does not contribute, the responsibility for paying the premium would fall to the employee. In other words, everyone who works for the federal government and lives in D.C. would be on the hook to pay as much as 1 percent of their salary into the citywide pool.
Self-employed District residents could opt-in or opt-out of the system.
Maryland and Virginia residents who commute into the District and work for the federal government would not be eligible. Authors of the bill could conceive of no way to legally include those employees.
How soon could I take paid leave?
There is no proposed start date for the law. If the council moves quickly to approve it and the mayor signs it, the measure could be law by mid-2016. Authors say the District would then need six to 12 months of employers to begin contributing to the new fund for there to be a pool big enough to cover residents’ leave requests. D.C would also need to set up an office to administer the leave and develop rules to guard against fraud.
What could go wrong?
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) did not co-sponsor the measure, but he made the key decision to keep the issue before the Committee of the Whole and to not let it go before the finance committee. The chairman of that committee, council member Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), had warned that it would create too much of a burden on employers. That leaves two questions: Will D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) support the plan? Her administration was lauded by President Obama’s Labor Department last month for helping to study the issue and a spokesman said she appreciates the intent of the bill. But the spokesman also said Bowser is concerned about the potential cost to the city to provide the benefit..
More troublesome for the District’s liberal lawmakers could be the Republican-led Congress and their oversight of local affairs. To halt the local measure, the House, Senate and president would all have to agree to a veto — something that has happened only three times in four decades. More likely is that a fiscal conservative in the House could seek to halt D.C. from spending any money to implement the leave program. From marijuana legalization to abortion coverage, there are plenty of examples of Congress stepping in to upend the District’s plans.