The District of Columbia recently passed one of the most expansive paid leave laws in the nation. While regulations have yet to be released and the major provisions of the new law won't take effect for a few years, employers should begin to prepare.
The D.C. Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act, enacted on April 7, will provide private sector workers in Washington, D.C. with benefits during leave taken for qualifying family and medical reasons. Covered employees will be eligible to receive up to a total of eight weeks of paid leave benefits in a 52-workweek period.
As passed, the law would be funded by an employer payroll tax of 0.62 percent of employee wages, which would begin no later than July 1, 2019, although eligible employees may not begin requesting leave until July 1, 2020. Benefits to employees on qualified leave would be paid from the yet-to-be-established Family and Medical Leave Fund, based on a percentage of the employees’ average weekly wage and currently capped at $1,000/week.
The District's new law is one of a growing number of leave laws nationwide providing employees with monetary benefits during qualified leave time. California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey have similar programs. New York state passed a law that includes job protected leave as well as monetary benefits that will take effect January 1, 2018.
What the law means for employers
Paid leave provided by the new law is available to employees who have been employed by a "covered employer" during any time in the 52-workweek period immediately preceding the qualifying event. According to the new law, “covered employers” include: (1) any individual, partnership, general contractor, subcontractor, association, corporation, business trust, or group of persons who employs or exercises control over employees and is required to pay D.C. unemployment insurance on the employees' behalf; or (2) self-employed individuals who opt into the paid leave program. The D.C. and federal governments are excluded from the definition of “covered employer.”
Employers should be prepared to comply with the requirements of the law, including notice requirements. Employers must ensure that employees are made aware of the paid leave rules as provided in the legislation as well as how to apply for leave benefits, assuming they qualify. Employers will be required to provide employees with written notice of their rights to leave under the legislation at the time of hire and annually thereafter as well as when they believe leave is needed. A notice to be developed by the mayor must also be posted in the workplace. And finally, covered employers need to be prepared from a staffing standpoint when that first employee takes leave.
What the law means for employees
Employees may qualify for benefits under three different types of leave under the new law, but may only receive up to a maximum of eight weeks of paid leave time annually. Here are the types of leave available for benefits under the legislation and the basic requirements:
- Parental leave: Eligible employees may receive benefits for up to eight weeks of leave taken for a qualifying parental leave event to bond with or care for a newborn, for the placement of a child for adoption or foster care, or the placement of a child for legal guardianship. Leave must be taken within one year of the qualifying event.
- Family leave: Eligible employees may receive benefits for up to six weeks of leave for a qualifying family leave event to provide care or companionship to a covered family member. Leave must be taken within one year of the diagnosis of a family member's "serious health condition." This can include physical or mental health illnesses, injuries or impairments that require inpatient care, or continuous treatment or supervision at home.
- Personal medical leave: Eligible employees may receive benefits for up to two weeks of leave for a qualifying medical leave event to address an employee’s own serious health condition. Leave must be taken within a year of the employee being diagnosed with the serious health condition.
The amount of the benefits paid to a qualifying employee during their leave depends on their average weekly earnings. Eligible employees who earn an average weekly wage equal to or less than 150 percent of the D.C. minimum wage multiplied by 40 will receive 90 percent of their average weekly wage. Those employees who earn more than 150 percent of D.C.'s minimum wage multiplied by 40 will receive a weekly benefit of 90 percent of 150 percent of the District’s minimum wage multiplied by 40, plus 50 percent of the amount by which their average weekly wage exceeds the 150 percent of the District’s minimum wage multiplied by 40, up to a maximum weekly benefit of $1,000. This cap will increase for inflation starting as early as October 1, 2021.
Although employees may be concurrently eligible for unpaid, but job-protected leave under the Federal FMLA or the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act, the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016 on its own does not offer job protection to employees taking leave.
Though the law has been enacted, and the mayor is expected to release implementing regulations later this year, the exact financial impact of the law for covered employers remains unclear. At this time, at least two proposals have been introduced to the District Council that would change the provisions of the legislation prior to the effective date.
Paychex will continue to monitor developments regarding the D.C. Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act as well as similar legislation pending in other areas of the country.