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Paid Sick Days, More Workplace Benefits for D.C. Workers

D.C. government is offering paid family leave, will Congress follow suit? (CQ Roll Call File Photo).

Workplace advocacy groups are ringing in the New Year with new family friendly workplace laws, some of which take effect in this month. Among these changes are several in the District of Columbia, including: — More pregnancy protections:  A new law guaranteeing pregnant workers reasonable on-the-job accommodations when they need them. The law takes effect on Jan. 15, when a 30-day congressional approval period concludes.  

— More sick days: D.C.’s paid sick days law expanded to include tipped restaurant and bar workers. This law went into effect in October.  — Paid family leave:  Government workers for the District of Columbia will receive up to eight weeks of paid family leave, to be counted as a part of the 16 weeks of D.C.'s guaranteed family and medical leave. This law went into effect in October.  

Family legislation is expected to be reintroduced in Congress, including the Healthy Families Act, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, and the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, which would expand many of these same protections nationally.  

On Capitol Hill, such family-friendly workplace conditions are largely a given, though there is no uniform policy.  

Ninety-five percent of House Capitol Hill offices provide paid sick leave, and the remaining offices provide leave “as needed” or allow staffers to take paid annual leave when ill, according to a 2010 House Compensation Study by the Sunlight Foundation.  

A congressional staffer can get sick, or care for a sick child or relative, and expect to keep their job and receive a paycheck. Congress, it seems, has become a model employer in this realm.  

Pregnant staffers can reasonably expect to sit at ergonomically appropriate desks. Among the Capitol Police, whose shifts can include long hours on their feet, pregnant women are given the option of restricted duty, which is generally administrative in nature.  

Congress may have made progress in certain workplace areas , but maternity and paternity leave policies still vary. And though there is a highly regarded day care facility , spots are scarce .  

Overall, workplace rights may be changing in the District of Columbia, but until Congress implements broader legislative changes, sick days, pregnancy accommodations and family leave won't be a given for the rest of the country — even as they are for Hill staffers.  

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