Some of America’s largest companies are lobbying for paid family leave — and that’s terrible news. On Tuesday the HR Policy Association, which is comprised of 380 major companies representing about nine percent of America’s private-sector workforce, proposed a federal paid leave policy. On the surface, that seems like a good step, until you parse the proposal. It calls for Congress to set an “optional minimum” for paid leave that, if met by the companies, would protect them from state and local laws — laws that may be more generous. It’s rare to see major companies lobbying for more government regulation, but this appears to be more of an attempt to check the efforts of progressive state and city lawmakers. Or, as Katie Bethell, Founder of Paid Leave for the U.S. said in an email, “This is a nonsense, anti-family proposal designed to let huge corporations off the hook for doing the right thing for their employees.”
The United States is still one of a handful of countries in the world, including Papua New Guinea, that doesn’t have a family leave policy. And while that’s terrible, there are encouraging signs at the state and local level. Currently, California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island offer paid family and medical leave, with New York coming online in 2018. What the HRPA is suggesting would undermine those laws and create a ceiling for the amount of time these companies had to offer employees.
Conservative lawmakers and companies in HRPA don’t agree. Their argument is that companies operate across state lines, and a national mandate would protect these transient employees. They also contend the current system of managing different state and city policies is a nightmare for multinational corporations.
Bethell calls BS, “There’s no reason why the biggest and richest corporations shouldn’t have to follow state and local laws,” she says. “There are only a handful of states with active paid family leave programs and the multinational corporations represented by HRPA are well prepared to handle compliance issues far more complex than differing paid leave laws.”
Past proposals from Democrats have called for basic nationwide benefits that also preserve local laws. The White House, which has been quiet about this issue as of late, pitched six weeks of leave. Regardless of how the government chooses to handle the issue of paid family leave, wise companies are still going to continue upping their parental benefits to recruit talent and create a better working culture. And for those organizations that seek the minimum, the minimum is what they’re going to get.