Leg. preps for paid leave

Legislators plan to introduce a plan allowing for 12 weeks of leave per year with partial pay.

by Brian Edwards

Workers throughout the state could receive more support from their employers when caring for a newborn, a child or an ill family member.
At a press conference Monday, state politicians announced plans to introduce the 2016 Paid Family and Medical Leave Act during the coming legislative session. The bill would allow all Minnesota workers up to 12 weeks leave with partial pay for pregnancy, medical issues, time spent bonding with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member.
Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, will bring the bill to the Senate, and Rep. Jason Metsa, DFL-Virginia, and Rep. Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park, will introduce the bill in the House.
At the press conference, five other senators and a small business owner supported the bill. 
The cost would be split evenly between employees and employers, Sieben said, adding that the state would collect the funds in the form of a tax on both groups and pay out the benefits to those who apply for the program.
Sieben said she carried the bill to last year’s session and legislators commissioned a study to find the best way implement the program.
The study, which was led by University of Minnesota researchers, showed that about 10 percent of workers in the state take leave every year.
About 27 percent of family and medical leaves in the state are unpaid. Low-wage, black, Hispanic, younger, part-time and less-educated workers are not as likely to have paid leave, according to the research. 
Of those groups, low-wage workers had the highest percentage of unpaid leave at 46 percent.
Brendan Watson, an assistant professor in the University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication, took two weeks of paid leave last year to spend time with his newborn. He said he would have liked to have had more time off. 
“The stress of lost sleep and trying to bond in those initial stages. It’s not particularly productive in the work environment,” he said.
As social norms have shifted toward parents equally dividing the time they care for their child, he said, it’s important that both men and women are allowed the same amount of time off.
Laws related to leave have not seen many alterations since the introduction of the federal Family and Medical Leave law in 1993, according to the University study.
The federal law currently allows for workers to take 12 weeks leave per year but doesn’t require employers to pay workers for any of their time off. The law mandates that companies with 50 or more workers must offer leave to employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours over the course of at least 12 months.
While there were some state law changes in 2014 that expanded eligibility for leave, paid time off requirements weren’t included. 
In Minnesota, all employers with at least 21 employees must provide up to 12 weeks of leave to those who have worked at least half time for 12 consecutive months.
Last month, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed six weeks of paid parental leave for state employees, which would cover about 35,000 people.
Debra Fitzpatrick, program director of the Center on Women, Gender and Public Policy in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, led the state-commissioned study, which was submitted at the end of January.
She said the program would follow a social insurance model instead of asking employers to shoulder the cost.
This program would help eliminate problems that arise when employers are forced to pay the full cost, Fitzpatrick said.
For example, she said if employers know that they might have to pay for a potential employee’s maternity leave in the future, they may be less likely to hire a female worker.
Additionally, some parents quit their jobs to care for a child, which can stunt their career paths, Fitzpatrick said.
“Staying in the workforce helps you advance,” she said. “When women have to leave and start over, they often have a lower position.”