Expansion of Federal Paid Leave in the House

This week, the House Oversight Committee voted 24 to 16 in favor of approving a bill that expands the scope of uses of paid parental leave for federal employees. With the Committees approval, it will now go to the full House for a vote. 

In October of 2019, federal employees were given 12 weeks of paid parental leave, granting employees paid time off for things such as the birth of a child in their household. 

This parental leave is based on mandates of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires all employers to offer 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave to employees, in order to address any critical medical needs of the employee or their family. 

The current bill in question that was voted upon July 20th would enact that the federal government’s 12 weeks of paid leave would also cover and convert the unpaid leave of the Family and Medical Leave Act. 

“Unpaid leave is not a viable option for many federal workers,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. 

Maloney was instrumental in the bill’s introduction. 

“In this bill, all of the current eligibility criteria from the FMLA would remain intact. There is a 12 month serious service requirement, and an employee would need to put in a request to the agency they work for and provide any necessary justification. And 12 weeks per year would remain the limit that an employee could take for paid family and medical leave.” 

However, multiple Republican committee members criticized the addition of another “perk” for civil service employment paid by American tax dollars, despite the legislation’s advancement. 

It is estimated to cost the government approximately $53 million over the next 10 years, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimation for the bill that was released on July 16th. 

“There is an incredible cost to not passing paid comprehensive leave: Talent exits our federal workforce and sometimes never comes back; when it does come back there are costs to retrain it; there are costs to productivity; there are costs to put in place replacement employees, because people exit the workplace permanently, rather than in a planned and temporary way under a limited set of circumstances,” said Rep. Katie Porter, D-Calif. 

Still, Republican lawmakers are arguing that federal employees can already use advance sick leave to take time off to care for themselves or a family member in need. 

The fact of the matter is that the current sick leave available to federal employees does not have the same amount of flexibility offered by this paid leave legislation. For instance, a federal employee would have to work almost five years without ever taking a sick day to result in the same amount of leave that is guaranteed in this bill. 

Although an employer may grant employees sick leave in advance before they earned that time, that advance is still capped at 30 days, meaning that the employee is required to have worked full time without using a sick day for nearly 2.5 years to reach the same level of time off included in the bill. That employee would also not be granted any other sick days for the rest of that year. 

The legislation would expand the use of such leave to cover: 

  • The deployment of a military family member  
  • Grief from a miscarriage or stillbirth 
  • Recovery from surrogacy 

Currently, none of the above-mentioned are directly outlined or covered in federal sick leave. 

The committee voted on other important pieces of legislation on Tuesday, namely the unanimous approval to enable inspectors general to continue working in the event of another shutdown and to also instruct OPM to establish occupational series for federal positions in software development, data science and data management, and software engineering. 

The committee also passed another controversial bill that would return administrative law judges (ALJ’s) back to the competitive service classification, rather than the excepted service that they moved to under a Trump administration executive order. 

“For decades, ALJ’s were previously hired through a competitive service appointment process that was administered through the Office of Personnel Management. Because this process was run by an agency that was considered independent of the hiring agency, it helped to ensure that the pool of available ALJ’s was both qualified and impartial,” said Connolly. 

“In July of 2018, however, executive order 13843 removed them from the competitive service and placed them in the excepted service, outside the reach of normal hiring and employment protections and not subject to requirements for minimum qualifications.” 

With this bill in effect, agencies would have to return to the practice of hiring ALJs from a pool of candidates created by the OPM, with the required qualifications of having a license to practice law and also at least seven years of experience administering law. 

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