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Comprehensive working families bill incorporates provisions of already-introduced family and medical leave bills

A comprehensive bill (H.R. 3047) intended for working families has been introduced in the House by Representative Lynn Woolsey (D-Cal). Called the Balancing Act of 2009, the bill incorporates the provisions of several previously-introduced family and medical leave bills, including the Family Leave Insurance Act (H.R. 1723), Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act (H.R. 824), Domestic Violence Leave Act (H.R. 2515) and the Healthy Families Act (H.R. 2460), all bill introduced in the House within the past six months. In addition to expanding family and medical leave, the proposed bill would also enhance access to childcare and in-school/after-school assistance, addressing school breakfast and lunch eligibility, child care facility financing, family care needs and telecommuting. In particular, the bill would create a pilot program to raise awareness about telecommuting among employers and to encourage employers to offer telecommuting options to employees.

Family leave insurance. The Balancing Act would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave benefits to workers who need to care for an ill family member (including a domestic partner or the child of a domestic partner), a new child, to treat their own illness or to deal with an exigency caused by the deployment of a member of the military. Employees who take the leave would receive benefits from a federal "Family Leave Insurance Fund." Employees would contribute 0.2 percent of their annual earnings and employers would match employee payments; employees with less than 20 employees would pay a 0.1 percent premium. The program is designed to be self-financing. The Department of Labor would contract with the states to administer the program. If the state chooses not to administer, the Secretary of Labor may make an interagency agreement with the Social Security Commissioner to administer the program (similar to how the SSA carries out its disability program). These provisions are from the Family Leave Insurance Act, which was introduced in the House on March 25, 2009, by Representative Fortney "Pete" Stark (D-Cal), among other sponsors.

Family and Medical Leave Enhancement. Another part of the Balancing Act would amend the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to allow private and federal employees to take additional leave under the Act for parental involvement and family wellness. In particular, the provision would allow eligible employees under the FMLA to take time off from work to participate in or attend their children's or grandchildren's school or community organization activities ( i.e., parent/teacher conferences, scouting or sports events) and meet routine family medical care needs, including medical and dental appointments of the employee's son, daughter, spouse or grandchild or to attend to the care needs of elderly individuals who are related to the eligible employee, including visits to nursing homes and group homes.

The Balancing Act would also expand the definition of "eligible employee" under the FMLA to apply to employers with 25 or more employees within a 75 mile radius, not 50 or more as it is under current law. In addition, an eligible employee would be permitted to take parental involvement or family wellness leave under Act for up to four hours of leave in any 30-day period, not to exceed 24 hours during any 12-month period. This leave is in addition to other types of permissible leave. An eligible employee may elect, or an employer may require the employee, to substitute any of their accrued paid vacation leave, personal leave, or family leave for parental involvement and family wellness leave under the Act. In addition, an employee would be required to provide their employer with at least seven days notice or as much notice as is practicable before the date the leave is to be taken. An employer may require certification. These provisions are from the Family and Medical Leave Enhancement Act, which was introduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NJ) on February 3.

Domestic Violence Leave. The Balancing Act would also provide eligible employees up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave under the FMLA during any 12-month period to address domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking and their effects. The bill would amend the FMLA to also allow employees to care for family members who are also addressing those same issues. In addition, the bill would also include same-sex spouses (as determined under applicable state law) and domestic partners of the employee under the FMLA. These provisions are from Representative Woolsey's Domestic Violence Leave Act, which she introduced in the House on May 20.

Paid sick leave. Another component to the Balancing Act would require employers with 15 or more employees to earn up to seven paid sick days a year. Taken from the Healthy Families Act, the provision would allow the paid sick days to be used to care for an employee's own illness or physical or mental condition, to obtain a medical diagnosis, a related treatment, or preventive care, or to care for a family member for any of the above reasons. The provision would also allow employees using the paid sick leave to recover from or seek assistance related to domestic violence, stalking or sexual assault. Workers would accrue one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked in order to earn up to 56 hours or 7 days of paid sick time. Employees would begin to earn paid sick time at the commencement of their employment, but would not be entitled to use the leave until after 60 days. Paid sick leave would carry over from year to year, but may not exceed 56 hours unless the employer permits additional accrual. Employers can require workers to provide documentation supporting any request for leave longer than three consecutive days, according to the bill. The Healthy Families Act was introduced in the House by Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) on May 18.

This Balancing Act, which was introduced on June 25, 2009, has 32 cosponsors. It has been referred to the House Committees on Education and Labor, Oversight and Government Reform, Armed Services, Ways and Means and House Administration.

For more information on this and other topics, consult CCH Employment Practices Guide or CCH Labor Relations.

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