What Leave to Expect When You’re a Senator Expecting

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By Madison Alder

No U.S. senator has ever given birth while in office. Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.) is about to be the first.

Duckworth recently announced that she’s expecting a baby girl in April. She’ll be following the maternity leave policy she created for her office when she became a senator a little more than a year ago, a spokesman for Duckworth told Bloomberg Law.

“She’s going to be taking time to bond with her new daughter when she’s born, but she’ll also be available to vote in the Senate,” Duckworth’s spokesman told Bloomberg Law.

Duckworth’s 12 weeks of paid family leave policy, which covers both mothers and fathers of a newborn, is the most common among Senate Democrats that responded to a Bloomberg Law inquiry about their leave policies.

A little-known fact? Every Senate office is responsible for creating its own leave policy.

To get a sense of where Duckworth’s policy stands, Bloomberg Law asked every Senate office what its maternity leave policy is. More than a fourth responded.

Policies by Senate Office

Of the 28 respondents, 21 were Democrats, five were Republicans, and two were independents that caucus as Democrats. The remaining 72 senator’s offices didn’t respond to Bloomberg Law’s query.

Twelve senator’s offices—10 Democrats, one Republican, and one Independent who caucuses with Democrats—reported that 12 weeks of paid leave for new mothers and fathers is their policy.

Bloomberg Law didn’t ask for the comprehensive family leave policies, policies for gay couples, or policies for adoptive parents, but many Senate offices indicated they had policies that would cover multiple types of family arrangements.

The policies must comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act, a spokesperson for the Senate sergeant-at-arms, who oversees administrative matters in the Senate, told Bloomberg Law. The FMLA stipulates that employers give their employees with at least one year of service, 12 weeks of unpaid family leave.

In addition to public agencies, the law applies to employers with at least 50 employees, and public and private schools regardless of size.

On Par With Businesses?

All but one Senate office said it offers paid family leave. That result would mean Senate offices have a slightly higher rate of offering a paid family leave benefit than most companies.

According to Bloomberg Law’s 2017 Paid Leave Practices survey, 94 percent of companies offered a paid family leave benefit to employees. The report was based on a survey of 852 human resources professionals nationwide.

But the responses from the senators’ offices likely don’t paint a full picture, Ellen Bravo, co-director of Family Values @ Work, a Milwaukee-based organization that advocates for family leave in the U.S., told Bloomberg Law.

“We have to assume that the ones that did respond are proud of their more substantial policies,” Bravo said of the results. She said she’d be interested to know how every office handles family and medical leave in general, not just leave for mothers and fathers of newborns.

Most FMLA leave, more than 75 percent, is used to care for oneself or a family member, not necessarily a child, Bravo said, citing a survey by her organization.

Political Context

Duckworth, who has been an advocate for paid family leave, supports a Democratic bill that would provide workers with a policy similar to the one she and 11 of her colleagues have for their own employees.

The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, or FAMILY Act, introduced nearly a year ago by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), offers universal paid family leave to workers for up to 12 weeks at 66 percent of their average monthly wage.

And paid family leave advocates aren’t all Democrats.

Under one provision of the recent Republican tax reform bill, employers offering 12 weeks of paid family leave get a tax credit of up to 25 percent.

President Donald Trump also touted paid family leave during his State of the Union address Jan. 30, calling on Congress to “support working families by supporting paid family leave.” First daughter and White House aide Ivanka Trump has been advocating for a national paid family leave program on Capitol Hill.

A plan the administration proposed as part of its budget request in May 2017 would give new parents six weeks of paid leave, by taking about $20 billion from the unemployment insurance program for 10 years. The proposal was never adopted, but the administration has another opportunity to introduce a plan later this month when it releases its budget proposal.

Bravo, whose organization supports the FAMILY Act, was critical of the Trump administration’s efforts to create paid leave policies, in particular dipping into unemployment to fund it. But she said she’s optimistic about the outlook for paid family leave in general.

“What’s hopeful is that our movement is still powerful, and that public opinion research shows that the vast majority of Americans of all political views support paid leave,” Bravo said.

—Tyrone Richardson contributed to this report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bloomberglaw.com

Copyright © 2018 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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