Washington, D.C., is poised to become the jurisdiction with the most generous paid family leave plan in the country , but its effects on the area’s federal workers are complicated. D.C.’s plan, which has the support of seven of the city’s 13 councilmembers and is expected to move forward, would provide 16 weeks paid family leave for District residents and for residents of nearby states who work for private companies based in the District.
Federal workers are the odd hybrid. District residents who work for the federal government, including those who work on Capitol Hill, would be eligible for the paid leave. Residents of nearby states who work for the government would not be.
So what does this mean? People who do identical work within the same federal office could be faced with drastically different paid benefits, even with the same family circumstances.
Sound convoluted? Perhaps. But D.C. is prepared to push forward on the paid leave debate, even if there are some awkward co-worker water-cooler conversations ahead.
Here are five things federal workers should know about D.C.’s proposed paid leave plan:
1) Federal workers who are District residents may see a payroll tax increase. The increase is expected to be less than 1 percent , and such payment models exist in states such as California, where the program is universal, a critical aspect to keeping cost low. Private companies based in D.C. would pay the payroll tax on behalf of their employees. The federal government is unique in that it cannot be taxed by an independent jurisdiction, such as D.C.
2) Opt-in or opt-out is restricted. The benefit would be extended to all D.C. residents, including those who work for the federal government. The only opt-out exception applies to self-employed D.C. residents.
3) It’s a mixed bag for Maryland, Virginia and other neighboring states. Federal workers who commute from nearby states are not covered under the D.C. paid leave law. However, those working for private sector employers primarily in D.C. would also be covered, regardless of where they live. If you brave Interstate 66 or the region’s railways to come work for a private company in D.C., then the 16-week paid leave benefits would apply.
4) D.C. law does not trump federal law. Federal workers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid Family and Medical Leave Act benefits, which come with certain job protections and a guarantee to keep health insurance. If a federal employee takes 16 weeks leave under the proposed D.C. law, he or she might not be entitled to the same job protections when they return.
However, the D.C. paid leave time would run concurrently with the federal FMLA. If a D.C. resident who works for the federal government takes 12 weeks unpaid FMLA, the proposed D.C. law would replace most or all of the person’s salary for those 12 weeks. The additional four weeks would be paid, but would lack the extra job or health insurance protections, at the discretion of the individual federal agency. Federal agencies still have the option to allow longer leaves at their discretion, particularly in cases of serious health issues.
5) D.C. is about to change the national debate on paid family leave. There are examples of paid family leave programs in states such as California, Rhode Island and New Jersey, all with bipartisan support. But those programs offer between four and six weeks of paid family leave, nowhere close to the 16 weeks D.C. is contemplating. Given the unique nature of D.C.’s relationship to the federal government, and the personal experience that comes from a staffer with legislative authority navigating his or her own leave benefits, expect to see national headlines as D.C. embarks on this change.
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