“My administration wants to work with members in both parties to make childcare accessible and affordable, [and] to help ensure new parents have paid family leave …” President Trump announced this proposal during his first address to a joint session of Congress. It signals a substantial shift in paid leave in the United States.
During the presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump made maternity leave a signature issue. Now that he is in the White House, Trump appears intent on pushing for paid leave for new parents who don’t receive time off from their employers.
Trump originally announced a plan last September. His plan, created with the input of his oldest daughter, Ivanka, includes six weeks of paid maternity leave for women whose companies don’t offer paid time off. Trump’s first joint speech to Congress may indicate that the plan will also apply to all new parents, but he has yet to reveal a formal proposal with this change.
With Trump’s renewed emphasis on the issue, employers should start to prepare now so they are ready for any new changes to federal laws.
Federal, State Laws that Impact Maternity Leave
Currently, there are no federal laws that require paid maternity leave in the U.S. However, there are several laws that impact pregnant employees, new parents, and their employers.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees can take up to 12 workweeks of job-protected unpaid leave for the birth or adoption of a son or daughter or to bond with a newborn or newly placed adopted son or daughter.
The Pregnancy Discrimination Act, an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, makes it illegal to discriminate against women based on pregnancy or related conditions.
Under Section 7 of the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers must provide reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child's birth. Employers must also provide a place for nursing mothers, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public.
New Push for National Paid Maternity Leave
Trump hasn’t yet submitted a proposal for paid parental leave to Congress. The plan that Trump announced during his campaign guaranteed six weeks of paid maternity leave for mothers who have given birth and who don’t receive paid time off from their employers. It did not extend paid leave to fathers or to adoptive mothers.
Whether the Republican majority in Congress will be eager to pass Trump’s proposal remains to be seen. When Barack Obama called for laws offering paid maternity and sick leave in his 2015 State of the Union address, Congress failed to pass any legislation.
While the situation regarding paid parental leave remains unsettled, employers should take several steps so they are prepared for any new laws.
• Stay on top of new proposals
Employers should proactively monitor any proposed legislation at the federal and state levels. Business associations, human resources staff, in-house counsel, and law firm attorneys should be regularly consulted so employers aren’t blind-sided by the regulatory or financial fallout of any new laws.
• Comply with current laws
With the current patchwork of federal, state, and local laws governing time off for new parents, now is an excellent time for organizations to work with human resources and legal counsel to review their current policies and procedures and make sure they are in compliance. By ensuring they are currently up-to-date, it will be easier to adapt any new laws that may emerge.
• Consider refresher training and updates
With the topic of paid parental leave in the news, employees may be wondering about laws and rules that impact them. This is a good opportunity to communicate with employees and provide extra training to supervisors and managers, so everyone understands the company’s policies and expectations.
As the Trump administration pushes for sweeping changes in the regulatory landscape, including parental leave, employers should start planning. Working with knowledgeable professionals now will help lay the groundwork for changes that could significantly impact employers and their workers.
About The Author
Richard D. Alaniz is senior partner at Alaniz Schraeder Linker Farris Mayes, L.L.P., a national labor and employment firm based in Houston. Alaniz has been involved in labor and employment law for over 30 years, including stints with the U.S. Department of Labor and the National Labor Relations Board.
He can be reached at 281-833-2200 or [email protected]