On the final day of the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in Chicago, the paid family leave advocacy organization Paid Leave for the United States publicized an open letter asking SHRM to withdraw its support from the Workflex in the 21st Century Act, or H.R. 4219, and support the FAMILY Act instead.
So far, over 60 HR leaders — including Carla Weil-Martin of American Express, Alice Vichaita of Pinterest and Janet Van Huysse, current head of people at tech company Cloudfare Inc. and former vice president of HR at Twitter — have signed the letter, which was released June 20.
The Workflex Act would do little to increase access to paid parental leave, according to Annie Sartor, workplace program director at Paid Leave for the United States, which calls itself PL+US. Sartor added that it isn’t a good policy for working families because it would allow companies to voluntarily evade state and local paid leave laws and reduce access to paid leave for people who live in states that provide more generous benefits.
PL+US supports the FAMILY Act, which provides a federal mandate of up to 12 weeks of partial income paid family leave. It also covers workers in all companies, regardless of size, and is funded by both employers and employees through a small payroll contribution.
“The next step will be a meeting with HR leaders and SHRM leadership to discuss these concerns in greater depth and encourage SHRM to support good paid family leave policy like the FAMILY Act moving forward,” Sartor said.
The open letter includes a lot of misinformation about the Workflex Act, according to Lisa Horn, director of congressional affairs and leader of SHRM’s Workplace Flexibility Initiative. The bill is not intended to be a parental leave bill, she said, and it does not address parental leave in any way. Parental leave, paid or unpaid, remains covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act and various state or local laws that address paid parental leave.
The purpose of the bill is to provide employers more consistency in the paid sick leave landscape, where currently a patchwork of 10 states and 30-plus local jurisdictions have their own mandated, one-size-fits-all paid sick leave laws, she added. This creates a compliance conundrum for employers, and the trend is only continuing.
While the letter suggests that the bill would harm states like California and New York with paid family leave legislation, that is not the case Horn said. While the Workflex Act would pre-empt state and local laws in the paid sick leave space, it would not pre-empt state or local laws in the paid parental leave space.
“I’d like to be clear that SHRM certainly supports paid family leave, whether that’s in the form or parental leave, paid time off, vacation or sick leave,” Horn said.
SHRM and its CEO, Johnny C. Taylor Jr., have been clear that they’re willing to talk with anyone about these issues, whether they’re in agreement or opposition, she added.
Alice Vichaita, head of global benefits at Pinterest, is one of the 60-plus HR leaders who signed the open letter. “I’m happy that PL+US is bringing this up again, especially at SHRM’s big conference,” she said. “While I support the piece where there should be a baseline time off for working parents, I do feel that the Workflex Act is not flexible at all. It’s actually restrictive.”
Although the bill would pre-empt state or local paid sick leave laws but not state or local paid parental leave bills, what Vichaita finds restrictive is that certain local sick leave laws allow sick time off to care for family members. There could be a negative impact on families if the local law would have allowed them more time than the Workflex Act to take this type of sick leave.
Employees who have a salaried, 9-to-5, 40-hour-a-week corporate job may have room for more flexibility in their schedule and may not be as affected by this proposed legislation, Vichaita did, because there’s more room in their schedule for flexibility. She’s more worried about how workers employed in industries like retail would fare under the Workflex Act.
Breanna Scott, director of product and service management at The Standard, shed light on the differences between the Workflex Act and the Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act, more commonly called the FAMILY Act. Most importantly, she said, the two bills are trying to solve two slightly different issues surrounding paid family leave. The Workflex Act is more focused on standardization of paid sick leave while the FAMILY Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., is more focused on specific reasons for leave being covered with paid and job-protected time off.
Other major differences include how leave would be funded in these bills. While the FAMILY Act would be funded by the employer and the employee through a small payroll tax, the Workflex Act would be funded solely by the employer, not employees. Also, while the FAMILY Act would mandate leave, the Workflex Act would make it voluntary. And, the FAMILY Act would require the setup of a new government agency and would be run at the federal level; the Workflex Act would be run by the employer.
Organizations that support the Workflex Act include SHRM, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Progressive Policy Institute and the HR Policy Association. Meanwhile, organizations that oppose the bill include PL+US and the National Women’s Law Center.
Scott added is that neither bill is likely to move forward legislatively anytime soon. There’s still plenty of time for details within the bills to be changed, and both bills would realistically undergo revision before anything gets finalized.
The big picture, she said, is the fact that both of these bills, one primarily backed by Republicans and the other by Democrats, shows that the issue of paid family leave is becoming increasingly more bipartisan, and that’s a good thing.
“It’s a good thing to see these proposed at a federal level because it does mean that this activity will continue, and we are much more likely to eventually get there than we historically have ever have been,” Scott said. “It’s heartening that you’re continuing to see momentum around the topic of employees getting federally recognized paid leave.”
Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.