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Is a federal mandate on paid family medical leave on the horizon?



Learn about about the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Welcome to Paychex THRIVE, a Business Podcast, where you'll hear timely insights to help you navigate marketplace dynamics and propel your business forward. Here's your host, Gene Marks.


Gene Marks (00:14):

Hey, everybody, and welcome back to another episode of the Paychex THRIVE podcast. My name is Gene Marks. I am really happy to have with me here Congresswoman Chrissy Houlahan, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, and Congresswoman Stephanie Bice, a Republican from Oklahoma. First of all, let me just say, a first ever. I don't know if we ever actually have had a call with both a Democrat and a Republican that are on this call, working together for something that's really important for the country and for small businesses. Thank you, first of all, for doing this.


Gene Marks (00:51):

What this is is a bipartisan working group. Both of you have pushed to form this group, which involves representatives from both parties from around the country, to talk about paid family leave. Who wants to go first? We want to get just an explanation. I know the group has met twice. I'll do the choosing. Congresswoman Bice, let me ask you, to start with. Tell us a little bit about the working group, how it came about and why you're doing this.


Rep. Bice (01:23):

Sure. Well, Representative Houlahan and I got to know each other in the last Congress, serving on the Armed Services Committee together, and she approached me about looking at offering paid leave for service members, because that was something that she struggled with when she was in the service. We actually worked on legislation last Congress that was in the NDAA to be able to allow for service members to take paid leave for birth of a child, adoption, and so forth.


Rep. Bice (02:01):

This Congress, the idea was proposed to us to really look at joining forces and creating a bipartisan paid family leave working group, and my real perspective here was let's start from ground zero. We know that there have been several proposals put forward on the House and the Senate side in a variety of ways, but I really wanted to take a step back and start from scratch with no preconceived idea of what the policy should look like, and begin to speak to the groups that have the vested interest in this, not only in the business community but also in the private sector. We've started that process now, and look forward to continuing to work through that over the next couple of months or so, before we really start looking at trying to put together some legislation.

Gene Marks (02:58):

Congresswoman Houlahan, what was your interest in getting involved in this?


Rep. Houlahan (03:03):

My interest is personal, right? I think it is for many of us. I am a mom and I also have had a full and vibrant career, but I've struggled with trying to make both of those things match up at various points in time, and particularly at events such as the birth of a child, or frankly, other sorts of events or stressors like a sick family member or the death of somebody as well. These are all inflection points that really stress families and stress people who would be otherwise able to work effectively.


Rep. Houlahan (03:37):

In my particular case, I was active duty in the military when I had my first child. I had six weeks of what amounted to convalescent leave, not paid family leave of any kind and I had a gap to fill, because it was six weeks of leave for the birth, but it was six months to wait for availability of childcare. That of course was a real struggle, for me to try to figure out how to put those two conflicting things together.


Rep. Houlahan (04:01):

I think Stephanie, Representative Bice, has had the same struggle and experience with trying to match up the needs of your family with the needs of your career and your work. Sometimes it doesn't work. I worked on, as Stephanie mentioned, paid leave for military employees and for federal employees, and the next step is more paid leave for more people.


Gene Marks (04:21):

Great. Representative Bice, let me turn to you as well, just to make sure that we have a definition right there. There's mandated sick time or sick time. There's mandated vacations ... there are three states right now that now have mandated vacations for businesses ... and then there's parental leave and there's family leave. Just to make sure that we're clear what the group is working on, this is a family and parental leave thing, correct? This is not a sick time and not a vacation thing?


Rep. Bice (04:50):

That's correct. Really what we're looking at is using FMLA as a guide. There is a very specific policy and outline of how FMLA is put forward, and so we're using that maybe as a baseline to understand better what direction that we should go. There's a lot of opportunity for us to have what my colleague, an engineer, would say is scope creep into various areas, whether it is certain types of leave, or even childcare is a big challenge right now for a lot of families. We recognize those things, but our focus has to be on this specific issue, and that is how do we offer more options for moms and dads and families to have the ability to focus on the family, especially when those newborn kids are coming along.


Gene Marks (05:47):

That's great. Representative Bice, just to stick with you as well, a lot of times when there's issues like this workplace type issue, I interviewed Senator Rand Paul a few months ago about minimum wage, and his feeling was that it shouldn't be a national minimum wage, we should leave it up to states to do that or even cities, that it's more of a local issue. I do find that people on the Republican side do tend to shift a little bit more towards, "Let's leave it for the states," whereas I know people that are on the Democratic side say, "No, this is more of a national issue. The federal government should be doing that."


Gene Marks (06:26):

This is for you, Representative Bice. Are you seeing that in these discussions? Are you finding that your colleagues on the Republican side are talking more about, "Let's make it more of a local thing versus a national thing," or are you finding more acceptance for a national policy?


Rep. Bice (06:43):

No, I think we definitely have more acceptance on this issue. Look, we're only one of seven countries in the world that doesn't have some sort of national paid family leave policy.


Rep. Houlahan (06:54):



Rep. Bice (06:55):

One of the maybe challenges is we now have states that are looking at putting in place some sort of leave parameter individually, whether it's a private-sector solution or through a public entity. That creates an unlevel playing field, particularly for companies that have a nationwide presence. Being able to figure out can we create maybe a baseline for what paid family leave should look like, and then should states want to do something maybe more robust or offer more, they certainly can, but maybe having that baseline is really what we're trying to focus on.


Gene Marks (07:35):

Right. That's great. Representative Houlahan, it always amazes me that there are cities and countries and other areas ... unrelated, we probably have a homeless problem in Philadelphia. Yet, when I visit my wife's family in London, they do not seem to have the same level of homeless problems there. That city has figured out certain things to do that I think could be replicated by cities here, and I kind of have the same thing with paid family leave. I mean, like Representative Bice just said, we're one of seven countries that don't have something like this.


Gene Marks (08:09):

Representative Houlahan, isn't this just a matter of pulling out a playbook from another country that is already doing this and just say, "Okay, let's take what they've done. They've taken us to third base. Maybe we make a few changes to get us across home plate, but it is something that we've got a model to follow." Is that something that the group is doing?


Rep. Houlahan (08:33):

Yeah, I would probably push back on that and say an American solution is probably the best solution that we should come up with. I agree with Representative Bice, with Stephanie, saying that we're looking to set a baseline. We now have 13 or so states that have already established some sort of paid leave, paid family leave processes, and this is a bit of a runaway train. We need to catch up with the runaway train on this and many other issues, frankly, like issues of privacy or issues of AI. We need to make sure that there is at least a federal baseline on these kinds of issues.


Rep. Houlahan (09:06):

Yes, you're not wrong to say that there are lots of nations that have really good and very, very robust family leave policies and other sorts of leave policies, but they're not us. They don't have the same infrastructure and economy that we do. We have looked. As one of our several meetings ... we've had now four meetings and a fifth one is coming up ... we did have all of the states come in, as many as who were willing to come in, and talk to us about what was working, what best practices were working across those states. I think that's probably a better proxy for what the solution will look like, rather than what something is looking like in Europe, as an example.


Gene Marks (09:41):

Okay, that's great. Let me stick with you as well, before you mute yourself again. Obviously our audience right now are our business owners. I know there's two big questions that they're going to ask, and I'm going to split them between the two of you. Number one is how's this going to be paid for, and number two is, "More regulations that I'm going to have to deal with." I'll start with you, Representative Houlahan. I'll ask you the, "How's this going to be paid for," thing. I know you might not have the answers, because this is a group that you're talking to so you're trying to figure this out. Can you give us a little bit of a flavor of what's being discussed about paying for this type of legislation?


Rep. Houlahan (10:19):

What we are looking at, to your point, is we've looked at what each of the states have done, and each one of those states has a different model and a different pay-for, so to speak, so we're looking for best practices there. We are also understanding. I'm a former entrepreneur, I grew businesses from startup to scale and sale. I understand what it means to be the sixth person there, and to go on maternity leave and now there's five. I understand what this struggle is, but I also understand that the more that you grow, if you even have one person who lives across the state line in Delaware ... I'm from Pennsylvania, in the Philadelphia area ... then you've got a whole new set of regulations and structural problems because you have a nexus in two different places.


Rep. Houlahan (10:58):

This really does argue for a federal baseline solution. It really does argue, not only because it's the right thing to do for people and we're well behind in terms of our peer nations, but also because it's the right thing to do for our economy. I think that who pays for it and what the structure might look like, the devil's going to be certainly in the details, and there are lots of different models that are out there that we will certainly take a look at. I think what we can agree with is that the time has come for this. I think when you've got both, bipartisan Democrats and Republicans and the Senate and the House bipartisanly talking about this, you might be onto something that's important right now.


Gene Marks (11:34):

Okay, great.


Rep. Bice (11:35):

Gene, if I could maybe jump in, please, quickly, and just maybe follow on the last question, which was looking at other countries and maybe modeling after them. The reason it doesn't work, or at least one reason it wouldn't work, was because if you look at, for example, the Asian American community, we actually invited them to be part of our discussion I think it was last week with the Asian Chamber of Commerce. They came in and when we asked them about paid leave, they said, "Well, that's not really a crucial thing for many of our folks, because we actually have multi-generational living accommodations." You have grandparents, parents and children living altogether, and so it makes for I think an interesting and unique dynamic, which they may not be as focused on this issue as some of the other families that are more of a traditional American dynamic.


Gene Marks (12:24):

It's a great point. You can't just apply what other countries are doing. I realize that. We live in a huge country. We have countries that are somewhat successful even with national healthcare, but in fact those models would not work in this country. I totally get it. I guess the point I would just say is that if there has been success in other countries around the world, is this group, this bipartisan group, at least considering what is working elsewhere that we could plagiarize, in a friendly way, and use here?


Rep. Bice (12:57):

Well, I would take that back to an initiative I worked on in Oklahoma when I was in the State Senate. No state was alike, and I had to figure out what was best for Oklahoma. In this case, it's the exact same. You can look at other countries and other models, but at the end of the day it really is what's best for the United States.


Gene Marks (13:16):

Fair enough. That's a great answer, and Representative Bice, while I still have you unmuted, part two of the question of course was about regulations. Again, so you know, I speak to a lot of industry groups during the year, like 50 to 60, and I talk about all these different things coming down from the EEOC, the Department of Labor, the worker classifications, pay transparency, overtime. There's a lot that's going on right now. To come back to businesses and say, "Oh, we're going to have a new type of mandate or regulation, it's going to be paid leave," how does your group address that? How do you make it palatable for business owners?


Rep. Bice (13:58):

Well, that's certainly something that was a topic of conversation in our last meeting with the chambers of commerce. They represent businesses that have a tough time navigating the regulatory environment that they are in currently, so layering on a whole new type of program is going to be a challenge. That's why it's important for us to ask the right questions, to get input from these organizations, to get feedback as we start to work on drafting the legislation, because we really want their support. We want them to be able to stand up and say, "This is good for our members and it's good for the country." To be able to do that, they have to have buy-in. Ensuring that they have a seat at the table and their voices are heard will be an important part of making sure that we get this across the finish line.


Gene Marks (14:42):

That's a good answer. I have 10 employees. Speaking on behalf of business owners, my clients as well, putting aside how this is going to be paid for, and that's a big thing, it does level the playing field for a lot of smaller companies, and middle. They can't provide that kind of paid family leave that bigger companies can do, and we're competing against those companies for employees. If there is a way for there to be a regulation to do it, that again is something that is not too excessively costly, I do think that it does level the playing field. That remains to be seen.


Gene Marks (15:19):

Representative Houlahan, back to you, and only a couple more questions and I'll let you guys go. You've been great. Who would administer something like this? Is this a Department of Labor thing? This would have to be legislation, I'm assuming. This is not just like an executive order, a regulation. Who does the group envision carrying out such a law?


Rep. Houlahan (15:50):

I don't know that I can necessarily give you the answer to that question, but my guess is none of the entities that you just named would be the people who would carry this out. My guess is that it would be something that would be enabled and supported by the federal government but executed at the state level, because I think that that's the way that most successful programs have worked historically, whether it's unemployment or other sorts of solutions for issues that we face at a state level.


Rep. Houlahan (16:15):

What I will say, going back to Stephanie's conversation about our small business conversation, we had our first meeting with people who had been the authors of the FMLA, and that was a very difficult conversation that they must have had 30 years ago with all these different stakeholders that we're talking to now, to try to thread the needle to try to figure out what is a big business, what is a small business, how do we make sure that we have as level of a playing field as we possibly can to be able to enable family medical leave to happen.


Rep. Houlahan (16:44):

Remember, that was just unpaid, the ability for you to be able to have a job retained. Not everybody is even covered by that right now. It's estimated that quite a large population is not covered. Fast-forward to now, and here we are having this same conversation. To a person, each one of those folks who were at the small business roundtable ... and we will have a similar one for larger businesses ... said, "This is ethically and morally the right thing to do. It's the right thing to provide opportunities for families to be able to take this important time with their children, but I am a small business owner an operator, and we need to figure out a way to level the playing field."


Rep. Houlahan (17:19):

The sole proprietors were actually quite interesting, because they also want to be able to energize their companies. They want in some cases to be able to stay sole proprietors and compete that way. In some cases they want to scale to a big organization. How do we make it so that they have the opportunity to participate in this sort of a program or plan as well? Because that one-person shop may end up being a 200-, 300-, 500-person shop at some point in time. It's a complicated solution set that we're trying to solve for, and I hope that we're the right team to do it.

Gene Marks (17:52):

I'm sure you are. Go ahead, Representative Bice.


Rep. Bice (17:54):

If I can just piggyback off of that, one of the things that became very apparent during COVID was that women were leaving the workforce to be able to stay home and take care of children. When they re-engaged, they really wanted to re-engage on their own terms. That meant maybe some flexibility in the workplace, working from home a couple days a week or working during school hours and then finishing up in the evenings, trying to find that balance.


Rep. Bice (18:20):

Small businesses are a perfect fit for that in many ways. It gives the larger businesses maybe a little bit of perspective on, "Hey, I need to be able to make sure that I'm providing that flexibility across my organization, because if I do that, I'm actually re-engaging the workforce." We've seen significant numbers of women that want to come back but just can't really figure out how to make that work, and this is an opportunity to try to re-engage.


Gene Marks (18:56):

Yeah, it's a major issue. I guess it's like anything else, it depends on how it's sold. Again, if businesses understand that it's going to provide a relief to their workers so that they come to work, that's reason enough to support something like that. The other thing is I am old enough to remember when the Family Medical Leave Act came out, and all of the uproar and the hoopla and whatever, the yelling and the screaming, and it's been fine. I mean, it's been established. It's been accepted. It's something that has been. I don't hear people complaining about it. It is what it is. It's like anything else.


Gene Marks (19:29):

Final words, Representative Houlahan, if I can ask you, where do we go next? I'd thought you guys only met twice. I didn't realize you guys have met five or six times already, so that's great to hear. What's the plan now to try and put some type of a bill together? Again, Representative Houlahan, what do you think are the prospects for something like that, and Representative Bice, I'll give you a chance to chime in on that as well. I'd like to hear your thoughts, but why don't you start with this, Representative Houlahan?


Rep. Houlahan (19:58):

If I had to roadmap this out, I would say there would be a continuation of the fact-finding and fact-gathering that we've been having until we've sufficiently saturated the set of stakeholders, and that we also understand, we have a baseline understanding in our group, of what's out there and what's been done before. I then think at that point in time, we do have the opportunity to potentially put something together as a legislative concept or several legislative concepts, and socialize them and shop them around to people both in our parties and across the Hill as well, but it's not just about legislative solutions. It's also about making sure that we advocate for whatever it is that we're able to accomplish. Convening is a really important superpower of Members of Congress. You can check it out in the Constitution, and we can continue to do that.


Rep. Houlahan (20:46):

If we're able to push something across the finish line ... and I do have optimism that we can, for lots and lots of different reasons we haven't talked about today ... if we're able to push something out, to your point, it's also about the marketing and the branding. It's also about making sure that we communicate and message what this is about and what it's not about, so that people will buy into it literally and figuratively, depending on how we structure it, so that we're able to make sure that the adoption happens. Because I think that's part of some of the things that we have tried to solve with, has been, relatively speaking, low knowledge, low level of knowledge and low level of adoption. That's going to be also the challenge of the working group.


Gene Marks (21:20):

All right, that is great. What about you, Representative Bice? What are your thoughts?



Rep. Bice (21:24):

No, I agree with everything that Chrissy just said. We're still in that fact-finding phase, and once we finalize or finish what we think is the end of that process, then we can begin putting together a framework, and I anticipate that will take quite some time. We've been a little preoccupied with some other issues on the Hill currently, and so we haven't been able to maybe spend as much time as I would like focused on this at the moment, but we will have that opportunity. I agree with Chrissy, we are committed to trying to find something that we can move forward, and what way or fashion that looks like, I don't know.


Rep. Bice (22:01):

I think I'm optimistic, because you've also had the Senate engage on this issue and they are willing to work with us as well, and you haven't seen that in the past. There's I think a tremendous amount of excitement around this topic. You've seen it across the board. Christina and I have done quite a few interviews on this topic over the last several months, and I think it just shows that this is an incredibly important issue and a need. It's time to try and address it.


Gene Marks (22:33):

I've just got to say in closing that this is why you guys ran for Congress. You can look back on this hopefully 30 years from now if something like this gets passed and be like, "Wow, we really were instrumental in passing something that had an enormous impact on people's lives," and I think that's what this bill could do, and you're doing it the right way. Putting together a bipartisan group and doing the fact-finding, it's the right way to do it, and I want to wish you the best of success. I'll keep close tabs on this, and maybe we can have you guys back individually or together again to give us an update, because I know a lot of employers are really interested to see what comes of this. It's very important. Thank you both. Thank you both.


Gene Marks (23:15):

I have been speaking to two Congresswomen, Representative Bice and Representative Houlahan, one from Oklahoma, Representative Bice, and Representative Houlahan is from Pennsylvania, close to my hometown in Philadelphia. I want to thank you guys both for joining me. All of you who've been listening and watching the Paychex THRIVE podcast, my name is Gene Marks. We appreciate your time. We'll be back to you again shortly with another episode.


Gene Marks (23:39):

Do you have a topic or a guest that you would like to hear on THRIVE? Please let us know. Visit and send us your ideas or matters of interest. Also, if your business is looking to simplify your HR, payroll, benefits, or insurance services, see how Paychex can help. Visit the resource hub at That's W-O-R-X. Paychex can help manage those complexities, while you focus on all the ways you want your business to thrive. I'm your host, Gene Marks, and thanks for joining us. 'Til next time, take care.


Speaker 1 (24:16):

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