By Dina Ninfo and Bridget Duignan
On August 17, 2016, the WBAI and the ISBA Standing Committee on Women co-hosted a lunch and learn focusing on the Illinois Family Leave Insurance Act. ISBA’s Julie Neubauer moderated the event and WBAI Legislative Committee Co-Chair, Bridget Duignan, spoke about the details and importance of this much needed legislation. Bridget has played an essential role in drafting this groundbreaking legislation. The Illinois Family Leave Insurance Act was filed on July 5, 2016 by Democratic Senator Daniel Biss as the Senate Amendment 1 to Senate Bill 260, which was referred to Assignments.
The Unites States is the only developed country in the world that does not provide a national law mandating paid maternity leave. Worldwide, only the United States, Lesotho, Papua New Guinea and Swaziland fail to provide paid leave for new parents. While some protections for working mothers extend back for decades, these programs are outdated and do not address modern needs. As such, more progress needs to be made to preserve our family structure. This need has become imperative as the role of women in the workforce continues to grow. Currently women comprise approximately 46.8% of the total labor force. See Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Population Survey, “Table 3: Employment status of the Civilian Noninstitutaional Population by Age, Sex and Race,” Household Data Annual Averages 2015 (2016). The only national protections for women in the workforce following childbirth are The Pregnancy Discrimination Act and The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was enacted in 1978 and makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee because of pregnancy, childbirth, or a pregnancy-related condition. The Family Medical Leave Act was enacted in 1993 which guarantees up to twelve weeks of job-protected leave without pay during any twelve-month period to eligible employees. However, due to the qualification requirements of the employee and the restrictions on which employers must offer FMLA, this Act only reaches approximately sixty-percent (60%) of the workforce. See Michael Selmi, Is Something Better than Nothing? Critical Reflections on Ten Years of the FMLA, 15 Wash. U.J.L. & Pol’y 65 (2004).
Currently there are five states which have passed paid family leave legislation; California, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington Consequently, Washington has never implemented this program and subsequent legislation has indefinitely postponed its implementation. For comprehensive details regarding the paid family leave laws of these states click here. All four of these states’ programs are funded through employee-paid payroll taxes and are administered through their respective disability programs.
The Illinois Family Leave Insurance Act, as filed, provides an eligible employee with up to twelve (12) weeks of family leave within a 24 month period, for a birth or adoption of a child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition or to recover from his/her own health condition The employee must be employed with the same employer in the State of Illinois for twelve (12) months or more or with a base of 1,200 hours worked during the preceding twelve (12) month period. Significantly, the Family Leave Insurance Act provides job protection during the period that the employee is entitled to take leave. Like the other states, the program is funded by an employee payroll premium deduction of .3% of taxable wages, with (a current) annual total contribution cap of $38.88 per employee. The employee is compensated at two-thirds (2/3) of his/her average weekly wage. Unlike the other states, Illinois does not have a state disability program to administer the program so the program is administered by the Department of Employment Security. The program, as proposed, is solely funded by the employee which means there is no contribution requirement by the employer. The full details of the Illinois Family Leave Insurance Act can be found at the Illinois General Assembly website.
Only thirteen percent (13%) of the workforce has access to paid family leave through their employers. See http//www.nationalpartnership.org/research-library/campaigns/family-act/family-act-coalition-key-paid-leave-facts.docx. This is true despite the fact that paid family leave has proven beneficial to both families and employers. There are tangible health benefits for the infant who is lucky enough to have a parent at home for a longer period, with pay. Paid family leave reduces infant mortality by as much as 10%. See http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3150137/. Infants are 25% more likely to get their vaccinations and well-baby visits. See http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.0013-0133.2005.00971.x/abstract. Women with access to paid family leave breast feed twice as long than women who do not have the same access to leave. See http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2015/images/10/28/paid-family-leave-1-2011.pdf. A family’s economic stability and security decreases the need for dependence on public assistance. Id. As far as employers are concerned, paid family leave promotes workplace attachment, employee retention and global competitiveness. There are federal programs that provide the state with financial assistance to decrease the cost for employers who seek to implement a program that provides their employees with family leave. Id.
In 2015, Senator Kristen Gillibrand of New York and Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut introduced federal legislation to establish a national paid family leave program. This proposed legislation is The Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act (FAMILY Act)(H.R. 1439/S. 786). The Act creates an insurance program funded jointly by employers and employees to provide up to twelve (12) weeks of paid leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member. This program would be administered by the Social Security Administration and would be available to all workers eligible for social security benefits. It is unacceptable that we are the only industrialized country that does not value the importance of the family structure enough to implement such a national program. While it is high time that Congress pass this type of fundamental legislation, multiple states including Illinois, are proposing effective legislation to tackle this issue at a state level. Only through a united voice will this legislation become a reality. Reach out to your local and national legislatures to voice your support of this vital legislation and demand that it be made a priority.
This article first appeared in the Fall 2016 Newsletter.