248-409-1900 dburke@mi-worklaw.com

By:  Dan Cohen – 2/3/15

Earlier this month, President Obama called on Congress to pass his “Healthy Families Act” initiative, which would require all businesses with 15 or more employees to provide up to seven days (56 hours) of paid leave annually to care for themselves and sick family members, to obtain preventative care or deal with domestic violence. He also issued a Presidential Memorandum directing federal agencies to advance six weeks of paid leave for parents with a new child and called on Congress to pass legislation giving federal employees six weeks of paid parental leave.

Is this, as the Department of Labor suggests, legislation that will strengthen the middle class by giving working families greater flexibility to balance the competing demands of their families and jobs? Or, is it unrealistic to think that employers with 15 employees can add this cost even though they are significantly below the federal threshold of 50 to even be covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act? And, has anybody questioned how it is that we will be able to pay for six weeks of parental leave at the federal level? Last time I checked, we were pretty much bankrupt.

The Department of Labor’s Fact Sheet on the subject proclaims that “the United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave.” Now, there’s a point that resonates with me. This sounds like one of my kids telling me “everyone else does it” as he pleads his case for approval. Unless we are thinking about joining the EU, I really am not interested in adopting policies and programs that the rest of the world sees fit to adopt. The only question should be: Is it the right thing to do taking into account the competing interests in play. I am not convinced.

Most successful businesses already offer paid personal days or have PTO policies. They offer these benefits not because they are told to by our government, but because it is a business decision that makes sense to them. It helps them compete by attracting and retaining talented workers that add value to their business. Pilchak & Cohen represents a lot of businesses from the smallest of the small to Fortune 500 companies. Nearly every one offers some form of paid personal time off. So, I am not so sure it is the job killer the far-rights says it is, but I certainly have not heard a convincing argument for spending taxpayer dollars at the federal level and forcing paid leave legislation on job providers, especially smaller employers with fewer than 50 employees.

I suspect, however, that this will be a moot point with Republicans in control of Congress. President Obama failed to pass similar legislation earlier in his Presidency when he had a Democratic controlled Congress so I do not see this initiative gaining much traction in Washington. It is evident the White House knows this given its push for State and Local governments to adopt paid leave laws. It is clearly no coincidence that the lead story in the January 29 DOL Newsletter is entitled, “Calling On All Mayors: Help Us Lead On Leave.” President Obama enlisted cities two years ago to champion his push to increase minimum wages. Seattle increased theirs to $15 an hour. Other municipalities followed suit.

According to the DOL, “[w]ith the issue of paid leave gaining greater attention than ever, the President is hoping cities and states will take the lead once again.” The White House is proposing 2 Billion in new funds to cities and states that assist with President Obama’s agenda. Surely some State and local governments will be inclined to grab federal money to assist them with the administration of such programs, but with Governor Snyder at the helm, Michigan is not likely to be one of them. It also helps to have groups like the NFIB seeking legislation in Michigan like House Bill 5977 to prohibit such local government micromanagement of businesses.