December 16, 2016 at 5:05 pm EST | by Preston Van Vliet
Why D.C. should pass paid family and medical leave bill
D.C. Council, gay news, Washington Blade, Universal Paid Leave Act

The D.C. Universal Paid Leave Act faces a final vote of the D.C. Council on Dec. 20. (Photo by Andrew Wiseman; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

By Preston Van Vliet & Sarah Brafman

On Dec. 6, 2016, the D.C. Council voted to advance the Universal Paid Leave Act, a bill that would provide workers with paid family and medical leave to bond with a new child, care for a seriously ill loved one, or recover from serious personal illness. The bill—which is up for a final vote on Dec. 20—includes crucial provisions for LGBTQ workers and their loved ones. The Council should pass the bill swiftly, unanimously, and without weakening amendments.

Ten percent of D.C. residents identify as LGBT, the highest percentage in the country. The Council should take note of this and ensure that the proposed law’s inclusion of LGBTQ workers remains.

The proposed law will benefit LGBTQ workers and their families in several key ways. First, workers are entitled under the bill to eight weeks of paid leave to bond with a new child. As the United States remains the only industrialized nation in the world that does not mandate any form of paid parental leave at the federal level, D.C. has the opportunity to be a trailblazer on this issue, joining the four states that have established paid family leave programs. Critically, the D.C. bill allows for all new parents, regardless of gender, to take paid time off to welcome a new child. Moreover, parents may take this time off to bond with a biological child, foster child, or adopted child. Being able to take time to bond with a new foster child can ease that child’s transition into the new home. Similarly, for an adopted child, parents’ ability to take time off helps children more easily attach to their new parents and home. And for biological children, a parent’s ability to take leave ensures that the baby is more likely to attend medical appointments, among various other benefits. Given how many LGBTQ families call D.C. home, our community should feel proud that D.C is leading the nation in defining “parent” using gender-neutral language.

The bill would also allow workers to take up to six paid weeks off to care for family members suffering from a serious illness or health condition. Importantly, the bill defines “family member” to include domestic partners and same-sex spouses. While all couples now enjoy the right to marry, many LGBTQ couples have already ordered their lives around domestic partnership law. The inclusion of domestic partners in the D.C. law is an important recognition of the various ways LGBTQ couples legally define their partnerships.

Furthermore, under the proposed law, workers suffering from a serious personal health condition will be able to take two weeks of paid leave while recovering. This is especially important for LGBTQ workers who experience well-documented health disparities. Such disparities result from a variety of factors including high uninsured rates, lack of cultural competency among health care providers, and stress associated with stigma and discrimination. Despite gains made by the Affordable Care Act, LGBTQ people remain less likely to have health insurance. Transgender individuals are even likelier to be uninsured, with a 2014 national study of low-and middle-income people showing that 35% of transgender people lacked insurance. Moreover, a staggering 70% of transgender and gender non-conforming people face discrimination when attempting to access health services. These health disparities make the need for paid time off to attend to chronic medical needs all the more important.

Notably, the Universal Paid Leave Act makes very clear that transgender people are able to take paid time off when seeking gender confirming medical care. In this way, the law will serve as a standard bearer for all other states and the nation when it comes to ensuring transgender people are supported in their health care decisions and medical needs.

Paid family and medical leave is not just good for LGBTQ employees but for employers as well. The availability of paid leave will help employers attract new talent, as well as retain valuable employees. Studies have also shown that access to paid leave can increase employees’ productivity and morale, another boost for business.

It is time for our nation’s capital to lead the way in supporting all workers and all families. The Universal Paid Leave Act provides the perfect opportunity for D.C. to show that it wholeheartedly supports LGBTQ workers and their loved ones.

Preston Van Vliet is a National LGBTQ/Work-Family Campaign Organizer with A Better Balance and Family Values @ Work, and a member of the Washington D.C. LGBT community. Sarah Brafman is a Skadden Fellow with A Better Balance and is working to support paid family and medical leave campaigns in New York and around the country.

  • This is the typical DC populist initiative which ignores the full scope of ramifications or leaves it for others to deal. This legislation has very real consequences that have little to do with the funding mechanism.

    The money is easy to figure out. Increase your total employment cost or find savings elsewhere. Painful, but doable. More problematic is the non-financial cost of this government sanctioned absenteeism. As a critical service provider or unique skill set walks out the door, it’s not like an employer can just pick up the phone and say hey DC Government please send me a fully trained and qualified replacement for the next two months.

    The unassuageable burden of this legislation in the end will fall to the employees who are left behind to pick up the slack and do the work, with little to no extra compensation for the burden that will fall squarely on their desks. There is nothing in this legislation that protects them from employer mandates such as extended work weeks or OT to cover the absent staff members work.

    • I totally agree that it’s hard to have workers absent, and that’s actually what this legislation is intended to address. This is already happening every day. Having paid leave doesn’t incentivize cancer or Alzheimer’s. People are getting cancer, having babies, or caring for sick relatives. The good news is that this legislation actually adds some predictability to these moments. Now, employers won’t have to pay out of pocket when someone has to run and take care of a dying mother. Instead of paying their salary for them not to do work, employers can pocket the salary – or better yet, pay a consultant or a temp to cover the parts of the job that can be done by someone else. This is already happening – let’s make it a better system so that neither employers nor employees are left scrambling. I fully support the Universal Paid Leave Act.

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