GOP Leave Bill Superseding Local Laws Gets Employer Support

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By Tyrone Richardson

Human resources professionals Dec. 6 urged members of the House Education and the Workforce Committee to support a bill that seeks to lessen confusion over compliance with local and state paid leave laws.

“Instead of facilitating the formation of paid leave policies, these inconsistencies and competing requirements actually discourage companies from voluntarily providing sick leave and/or paid leave to their employees,” said Barbara Brickmeier, IBM’s vice president of employee benefits. “For example, it would be difficult from a compliance and administrative standpoint for IBM to implement a single, uniform paid family leave program for all U.S. employees, given varying and onerous mandates by jurisdiction.”

Brickmeier spoke on behalf of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which helped draft a recently introduced Republican bill that would shield employers from local paid leave mandates.

Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.) Nov. 2 introduced the Workflex in the 21st Century Act ( H.R. 4219), which would exempt employers from state and local paid leave obligations if they give workers a certain amount of general paid leave that can be used for medical, family, bereavement, vacation, and other reasons.

Paid leave has been a growing workplace issue. Walters is one of several lawmakers to introduce leave legislation, and President Donald Trump has asked Congress to find ways to work on a paid leave measure.

Democrats Criticize GOP Bill

Committee Republicans and Democrats clashed on the pathway that should be taken for paid leave. Some Democrats voiced reservations with the concept of superseding local and state mandates, saying it could undermine the authority of local governments and place too much power in the hands of employers.

“This does not solve the problem because it is voluntary” for employers, said Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.). “We know that states and local jurisdictions will continue to address the needs of their constituents.”

Similar comments were made by Hans Riemer, president of the Montgomery County (Md.) Council, who testified before the Workforce panel.

The GOP bill “would create an off-ramp for employers to evade state and local laws presently covering millions of people,” he said.

Walters later defended the measure in a written statement to Bloomberg Law Dec. 6, saying her bill “would provide more guaranteed paid leave to employees than any state law, and nearly every local law.”

“To be clear, no employee in a jurisdiction with existing sick leave laws loses out; in fact, many will gain guaranteed paid leave,” she said. “The paid leave benefits in Workflex are provided in addition to the flexible work arrangements that employers would be required to offer employees.”

Democrats have been seeking consideration of their FAMILY Act ( S.337, H.R. 947), which would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program, funded by contributions from employers and workers.

Other paid leave efforts include a Republican measure in the Senate version of the tax reform bill, which was passed Dec. 2. The measure, which would offer a tax credit for businesses that offer their workers paid family and medical leave, is among the provisions to be discussed as the lawmakers are in conference to find a compromise with the Senate and House versions of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act ( H.R. 1).

The benefits measure is based on Sen. Deb Fischer’s (R-Neb.) stand-alone legislation ( S. 344), which has been stalled.

Republicans Shy Away From Regulations

Some committee Republicans recoiled at the notion of further regulations on employers, which they said would add administrative duties and lessen chances of growing the workforce.

“This growing patchwork of mandates across multiple jurisdictions creates a real administrative and implementation burden, particularly on small businesses, while also increasing compliance costs for employers,” said subcommittee chairman Rep. Tim Walberg (R-Mich.)

Similar comments were shared by Angela Schaefer, vice president of human resources at Safety National in St. Louis, who spoke on behalf of the Society for Human Resource Management. SHRM was also one of the management groups that helped sculpt Walters’ paid leave bill.

Schaefer said the growing number of local leave laws has meant increased legal fees and administrative hours for employers to remain in compliance.

“This effort has been particularly time consuming and difficult as many of these laws conflict with each other, use undefined and ambiguous terms and require our outside legal counsel to interpret the various leave laws to ensure that our policies are in compliance,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tyrone Richardson in Washington at trichardson@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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