Massachusetts Senate to consider paid family leave bill

In News, Paid Leave by Raise Up Mass

MassLive:

The Massachusetts Senate is prepared to take up a bill that would give every Massachusetts worker paid family and medical leave.

“We are hearing that businesses need some policies that will really help attract and retain the most talented workers to Massachusetts and reduce employee turnover, and we all know that our people are our greatest natural resource in Massachusetts,” said State Sen. Karen Spilka, D-Ashland, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Ways and Means and the bill’s sponsor. “Paid family leave will help us remain competitive and ensure that our workers want to stay here.”

The Senate is scheduled to take up H.4351 this Saturday. The bill, a major policy change that has strong opposition from the business community, is unlikely to make it past the House in the final week of the legislative session. But it will give senators a chance to show their support for paid family leave as they head back to their districts to face reelection campaigns.

“It’s important to all of the woman across the commonwealth and all the families, including the men,” Spilka said.

The bill would grant a maximum of 16 weeks of family care leave, which can be used for an illness or to care for a family member, and 26 weeks of temporary disability leave in a year to any employee who has worked the equivalent of at least 31 40-hour weeks.

An employee who takes leave would be allowed to return to the same or a substantially similar job. The leave would not affect an employee’s right to accrued vacation or sick time, seniority, bonuses or other benefits. An employer would not be allowed to require an employee to use up paid vacation or sick time before taking leave.

The first week would be unpaid, and after that the worker would be paid part of their regular salary. The amount would be set at 50 percent in 2018 and would increase up to 90 percent in 2020, with a maximum benefit of $1,000 a week.

The benefits would be paid for by a fund that employers will have to pay into, although companies can require employees to pay up to half their portion of the contribution.

The bill would establish an office in state government to oversee the administration of the benefits. The start-up operating costs and information technology are expected to cost $12 million, according to a fiscal note attached to the bill. That does not account for the cost of paying benefits for public employees.

Business groups strongly oppose the legislation. “It’s one of the most frightening things businesses have looked at this entire session,” said Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts. “This would be a first in the nation proposal that no one has figured out what the cost would be either to small businesses or to taxpayers.”

Paid family leave has become a major issue nationally, with President Barack Obama, a Democrat, pushing for an expansion of paid leave. In Massachusetts, more public employees have been getting paid family leave.

The United States is one of only a handful of industrialized countries not to provide paid maternity leave. Federal law grants workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave, with their job protected, due to the birth or adoption of a child or for an illness, and 26 weeks of unpaid temporary disability leave. Massachusetts law grants eight weeks of unpaid leave for employers not covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Currently, only New York, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island require businesses to offer paid family leave, which is paid for by an employee payroll tax. The paid leave ranges from four weeks to 12 weeks, depending on the state. The Massachusetts proposal would be the most generous in the country.

Spilka argued that the policy would make employees more productive and help companies retain talented workers – while helping employees at all income levels. She pointed to companies like the Cambridge-based software start-up Tamr, which gives employees 18 weeks of paid family leave and has advocated for the expansion of paid family leave policies.

But businesses say the proposal would make them less competitive and raise their costs. “It would drive small businesses out of business,” Hurst said. “They can’t afford it.”

Chris Geehern, a spokesman for Associated Industries of Massachusetts, said Massachusetts businesses are still adjusting to a new law requiring them to offer paid sick leave.

“We fail to see why we measure social progress by paying people not to work,” Geehern said. “This constant drumbeat of legislation where employers are paying people to stay home for whatever reason, even though the reason may have some merit, just can’t continue. You’re going to hinder the efficiency of the entire economic system to the point that it’s going to cost jobs.”

By Shira Schoenberg | sschoenberg@repub.com  on July 21, 2016 at 11:05 AM