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Another Paid-Leave Proposal Hits Capitol Hill

      You never know what direction Congress is headed with family-friendly legislation but I'm hopeful real change is in the works. Here's the latest from Capitol Hill, according to a report in BusinessBrief.com.

           Capitol hill                Jim Giuliano writes:  Something benignly called “The Balancing Act of 2009″ is getting serious consideration in Congress this year. It’s really just another paid-FMLA proposal, but it has a real chance of passing this time.

To facilitate passage, a number of proposals were recently consolidated within a single bill that could bring about the most sweeping reforms since the Family and Medical Leave Act became law 16 years ago. On June 25, 2009,  Representative Lynn Woolsey (D. CA) introduced the bill, which incorporates multiple expansion efforts. Taken together, these provisions could have significant implications for employers and employees alike.

Within the bill is a proposal that would essentially convert FMLA to a paid-leave statute, allowing employees to take upwards of 12 weeks of paid leave over a 12-month period for qualifying family, medical or military-exigency reasons. Here’s the way it would work:

* A federal “Family and Medical Leave Insurance Fund” would be established to finance paid-leave distributions.

* Employers and employees would jointly subsidize the trust fund by contributing 0.2% of employee earnings. That comes out to an average of about $100 per employee. The fund would be managed by the U.S. Department of Labor.

* The act would expand FMLA coverage by creating new forms of protected leave for both “parental involvement” and “family wellness.” Parental-involvement leave would allow workers to participate in certain academic and extracurricular activities of their children and grandchildren, while family-wellness leave would enable employees to assist family members in attending medical appointments and to care for elderly relatives.

* The legislation contains additional provisions that would: 1) require covered employers to provide a minimum of seven days of paid sick leave per year; 2) extend protection to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault; and, 3) allow leave to care for a broader category of family members, which would include domestic partners and same-sex spouses.

* While the FMLA currently covers only employers with 50 or more employees, the Balancing Act would expand the coverage to those with 15 or more employees. The bill would also extend eligibility to certain part-time employees who work 1,050 or more hours per year, a substantial reduction from the current minimum threshold of 1,250 hours per year.

Click here for the full text of the bill.

MarkbI asked employment attorney Mark Beutler at Epstein Becker & Green in Miami to weigh in. These are his thoughts: "Bills like this show up from time to time. The probabilities of passage are greater than they once were but it will be parked behind a health care reform bill and the Employee Free Choice Act. The probability of passage next year may be more promising."