In a dramatic move in the push for paid leave, the D.C. government has introduced legislation that would provide 16 weeks of paid family and medical leave — even for D.C. residents who work for the federal government, including on Capitol Hill.
The paid leave criteria are modeled after the Family and Medical Leave Act, which gives employees time off to bond with an infant or an adopted child, recover from an illness or tend to an ill family member.
Ashley Fox, spokeswoman for D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman, who co-authored the legislation, clarified that D.C. residents who work on Capitol Hill would qualify for the 16 paid weeks, provided they contributed to a government-monitored fund on their own behalf. The fund would be capped at 1 percent of the employee’s annual income and would be collected through a mechanism similar to the D.C. income tax. Fox explained the adjusted rules are because of the limits of taxation.
“We aren’t able to tax the commuters into the District, nor can we tax the federal government,” she said.
Residents of Maryland, Virginia and other states who work on Capitol Hill would not have the option of the 16 weeks of paid leave. But all non-federal government employees who work in D.C., regardless of residency, are eligible for the 16 weeks paid leave.
One potential sticking point for employees is that the D.C. government may not be able to insist a Capitol Hill office rehire a staffer after taking the full 16 weeks. Capitol Hill staffers are entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid FMLA leave under the Congressional Accountability Act, with a year of service needed to be eligible .
According to information first reported by The Washington Post , D.C. would offer 16 weeks at 100 percent pay for those making up to $52,000 a year. Employees who earn more than that would be eligible for $1,000 a week, plus 50 percent of their additional income, up to a maximum of $3,000 per week.
Capitol Hill has long allowed ad-hoc paid-leave policies to flourish. There are wide disparities in paid maternity and paternity leave policies among members. Offices with longstanding histories of generous leave policies are quick to speak up and tout them. But many offices are reluctant to respond about paid leave, often because they lack a formal policy and have been making many personnel decisions as they go, on a case-by-case basis.
The proposed legislation, widely supported by the D.C. Council and the Obama administration, could have the convoluted effect of maintaining wide disparities on paid leave among Capitol Hill offices while still providing each office with a framework of a formal policy. The D.C. residents who work on Capitol Hill and opt into paying for the fund would gain a firm understanding of their paid-leave policies, including the salary levels they can expect to receive.
For out-of-District residents who work on Capitol Hill (or the many congressional staffers who work beyond the Beltway in state offices), the policies for paid leave remain opaque, with the potentially additional confusion of having one co-worker eligible for paid-leave benefits while another is not.
The Congressional Office of Compliance, the agency established to administer and enforce many of the workplace protections on Capitol Hill, clarified that it would not have jurisdiction over the D.C. legislation. "But the OOC would track any family and medical leave proposals, and other workplace legislation like FMLA that are covered in our authorizing statute — the Congressional Accountability Act," said Paula Sumberg, OOC's deputy executive director, in an email to CQ Roll Call.
As staffers wait to see how exactly the changes could affect Capitol Hill, the legislation could provide additional encouragement for staffers to consider D.C. residency.
"Perhaps many of the staffers who think about starting new families or helping aging parents cope with serious illnesses will decide to move into the District so they can participate," said Ari Weisbard, Silverman's legislative director. "Studies show family leave is a key benefit to attracting and retaining good employees."
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