Republicans to Offer Alternative Paid Leave Proposal

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By Chris Opfer

House Republicans plan Nov. 2 to take a stab at securing paid leave for workers by offering businesses a shield from state and local obligations, sources familiar with the situation told Bloomberg Law.

Rep. Mimi Walters (R-Calif.) plans to introduce legislation that would give businesses a safe harbor from state and local paid leave requirements if they voluntarily offer workers some unspecified amount of paid leave and flexible work options. Walters’ office has been working on the measure with business groups like the Society for Human Resource Management, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and HR Policy Association since at least May.

The legislation signals a new approach for Republicans and business groups, which have largely resisted paid leave mandates at the federal level. It also poses something of a tightrope walk for GOP lawmakers who support state rights but have criticized more ambitious paid leave requirements in San Francisco, New York, and elsewhere.

“Right now, employers have to deal with a myriad of laws on the same subject matter,” Michael Kalt, a management attorney in San Diego, told Bloomberg Law. “For instance, in California right now we have a statewide leave bill and we have different requirements in seven different cities.”

Walters spokesman T.W. Arrighi didn’t respond to Bloomberg Law’s request for comment. Sources familiar with the situation said the bill’s timing could be pushed back in response to GOP plans to unveil tax reform proposals in the House.

The measure would amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which sets minimum requirements for pension and other benefits plans. ERISA bars state and local governments from implementing additional restrictions or requirements on employee benefit plans.

Details Still Murky

It’s still not clear what specific leave benefits employers would have to offer to qualify for the safe harbor. One option being considered recently was to shield companies that offer a certain amount of general paid leave that can be used for medical, family, bereavement, and other reasons, sources told Bloomberg Law.

Democrats and worker advocacy groups have already voiced some skepticism about a plan that could water down paid leave benefits in some cities and states in exchange for ensuring that more workers get at least some paid leave nationwide.

“This isn’t something that we support,” Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project, told Bloomberg Law last month. “We believe that all workers in this country need and deserve adequate paid leave and support state and local jurisdictions that set standards for their corporate citizens.”

The measure is intended in part to show that Republicans are open to discussing ways to secure paid leave for workers, HR Policy Association lawyer Roger King told Bloomberg Law. White House adviser Ivanka Trump has urged lawmakers to consider paid leave generally.

“We would hope the issue would be important for Republican members of Congress to show they are interested in a family friendly environment in this country,” King said. “We think the family-friendly environment is critical for the successful workforce for retention and recruitment and we hope Republican leaders embrace that idea.”

—Josh Eidelson (Bloomberg News) and Tyrone Richardson (Bloomberg BNA) contributed to this story

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

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