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December 30, 2013

States make moves toward paid family leave

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Under the 20-year-old Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, eligible workers are entitled to 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid family leave every year to care for an infant or sick relative. The United States, alone among all advanced economies and many developed nations, has no national policy allowing paid family leave. Other countries give families as much as one year of paid leave, which is divided between mothers and fathers.

The FMLA covers employees who have worked full time for at least one year at a company with more than 50 employees. A Labor Department survey released in February found that 40 percent of the U.S. workforce is not eligible. And many of those who are, the survey noted, cannot afford to take it.

Some business groups and lawmakers, worried about the sluggish economy and weak job growth, say that paid-leave laws could hurt businesses.

"At a time when there are soaring deficits and many businesses are still struggling, paid leave becomes yet another entitlement program," said Lisa Horn, a senior government relations adviser for the Society for Human Resource Management, a business group that, along with local chambers of commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business, has fought paid family leave. "That's a difficult pill for the business community to swallow."

Doreen Costa, a Rhode Island Republican lawmaker who voted against paid family leave this summer, said she thinks that it will hurt small businesses in her district.

"It's bad here. Businesses in my district aren't just hurting, they're closing," she said. "I'm very concerned about what will happen in January."

In Rhode Island, workers pay 1.2 percent of the first $61,400 in earnings into the state's Temporary Disability Insurance to cover off-the-job injury and illness. The new law opens that fund to workers who need to care for a new child or sick family member, and gives them up to four weeks of job-protected leave paid at about 60 percent of their salary, up to a cap of about $750 a week.

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