In the bizarre way that the United States government works, the Senate passed a bill on Tuesday, tucked into the budget of the National Defense Authorization Act (authorizing a new Space Force branch of the Armed Services), providing all federal workers with 12 weeks of paid parental leave for the first time in American history.
The bill, which was lightly covered in the media due to the impeachment hearings, will offer all federal workers 12 weeks of paid parental leave—coinciding with the birth, adoption or fostering of a child. First passed by Congress and this week’s vote in the Senate, the bill will now be brought before President Donald Trump to sign.
This monumental policy will commence in October 2020. Federal employees will need to work for the U.S. government for at least a year to become eligible for the benefits. They will also have to return back to work for at least 12 weeks after they take their leave. The initial version of the bill called for also providing paid time off for employees who need to care for sick adult relatives or tend to their own medical issues. However, this draft did not garner sufficient bipartisan support.
The U.S. is unique in that it’s the sole industrialized nation that has refused to adopt a policy of parental leave for its federal employees up to this point. The U.S. currently has the Family Medical Leave Act, which requires employers with 50 and more employees to give parents 12 weeks of leave to care for a new child. The corporations are not mandated to offer any guaranteed pay for their employees who take time off from work.
Over 2 million Americans are believed to benefit from this new policy. By comparison, only 19% of U.S. non-government workers have access to paid family leave through their employers. This gives rise to questions from some people over the fairness of the act. Is it appropriate for government employees, who are paid by taxpayers, to receive such an important benefit that is not widely offered to the majority of working people? The Congressional Budget Office estimates it could cost about $8.1 billion over the next 10 years—funded by workers who don’t have this right. This does not take away from the importance of the bill, but there should be some thought and consideration for those who are not fortunate enough to receive such a benefit.
Similar policies have already been adopted by many large, leading companies in the U.S. The hope is that other corporations will follow the government’s lead and offer this benefit to their employees too. Wide adoption is questionable as many small-to-midsize organizations don’t have the financial and personnel resources to offer such a program—even if they wanted to.
An unintended consequence may be that people will seek out jobs with the government or large, deep-pocketed companies and leave smaller firms. This will put more power into the hands of companies, such as Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple and the U.S. government, while weakening smaller companies that are unable to offer this program. They will most likely lose their best and brightest employees to their bigger rivals.
It is expected for Trump to sign the bill, as his daughter, Ivanka Trump, was a prominent proponent of the bill. Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the new chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, have all championed this cause.