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Tammy Woolley: Federal paid leave laws may be on the way
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Tammy Woolley: Federal paid leave laws may be on the way

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Tammy Woolley

Tammy Woolley

In his address to the Joint Session of Congress on Wednesday evening, President Joe Biden formally announced (among other things) the paid leave provisions of his American Families Plan.

The specifics of the paid leave proposal could be more specific. But here is the information we have right now:

Employees would eventually be entitled to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year for a number of reasons, including the employee’s own illness; the illness of a family member; a new child; the military deployment of a family member; treatment for or recovery from sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence; and bereavement

The paid leave would be phased in over 10 years. However, three days of paid bereavement leave would be available from the beginning.

The program will provide workers $4,000 a month, with a minimum of two-thirds average weekly wages replaced, rising to 80 percent for the lowest wage workers.

That is from the President’s proposal. I can’t paraphrase it because I don’t understand what it means. Media sources seem to think it means “two-thirds of average weekly wages replaced (or 80 percent for low wage workers), up to a maximum of $4,000 a month.” Probably so, but that isn’t really what the proposal says. Surely the actual legislation will be more clear.

And we don’t yet know how “lowest wage workers” will be defined.

The President estimates that the cost of this plan will be $225 billion over the next 10 years, which sounds a bit optimistic. The cost of a much more modest paid leave proposal championed by Ivanka Trump — which would have applied only to parental leave, would have provided only eight weeks of paid leave, would have been capped at $600 a week, and would have been funded by a “small” tax increase and reductions to the budget in other areas — was estimated to cost $500 billion over 10 years.

How likely is the American Families Plan to pass?

The “plan for the Plan” is to introduce it via the budget reconciliation process. If successful, that would allow it pass the Senate with a simple majority vote and no filibustering, making it almost certain to be enacted.

But some commentators have questioned whether the Democrats can pull that off. If not, then the AFP would have to pass the Senate with 60 votes, which is not likely.

Healthy Families Act

President Biden also called on Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which was reintroduced on April 13 and would require employers with 15 or more employees to provide employees with seven days of paid sick leave per year. The qualifying reasons in the pending House bill have some overlap with the American Families Plan:

Physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition

Obtaining a diagnosis, care, or preventive care

Attendance at required meetings at a school which the employee’s child is attending because of a medical condition or disability

Obtaining various types of assistance related to sexual assault, stalking, or domestic violence

If enacted, the U.S. Department of Labor would have 180 days to issue regulations, and the law would take effect six months after that.

Don’t “leave”—we will keep you posted!

Tammy C. Woolley is Senior Counsel working out of the Constangy, Brooks, Smith & Prophete, LLP offices in Opelika, and can be contacted at or 205-226-5468.


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