Pay attention! Paid family leave is coming to the US

Oct 26, 2016 | Blogs

What does the US have in common with Suriname and seven small Pacific Rim nations? They all share the title as the only countries in the world that don’t guarantee paid maternity leave.

That’s not to say that nobody in the US can take paid family leave. According to a March 2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics Employee Benefits Survey, 13% of all US workers have access to paid family leave.

By getting paid during their leave, these lucky 13% receive more than is required by the government.  The US currently adheres to the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons.  The FMLA only applies to private sector employers with at least 50 employees, public agencies, and elementary and secondary schools.  To qualify, employees must have worked at least one year and have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before leave begins.

However, this is all could change in November 2016 when the US chooses its new president.  Both the Democratic and Republican candidates have set out plans for the US to join the rest of the industrialized world.

What are the candidates’ family leave plans?

Hillary Clinton’s plan:

  • Guarantee all employees up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member, and up to 12 weeks of medical leave to recover from a serious illness or injury of their own
  • Ensure workers receive at least two-thirds of their current wages, up to a ceiling, while on leave
  • Impose no additional costs on businesses, including small businesses
  • Pay for this benefit through tax reforms

Donald Trump’s plan:

  • Guarantee all employees six weeks of paid maternity leave to care for a new child
  • Provide benefit through government only when employers don’t offer paid maternity leave
  • Pay for this benefit through an amendment to existing unemployment insurance policies


There are three main differences between the two plans:

  1. Timespan: Clinton’s plan guarantees double the amount of paid leave, 12 weeks compared to Trump’s six.
  2. Beneficiaries: Trump’s plan only applies to mothers, while Clinton’s would apply to all parents.
  3. Scope: Clinton’s plan has a broader scope, including family leave for seriously ill relatives as well as medical leave, while Trump’s plan only includes maternity leave.


What does this mean for businesses operating in the US?

Paid leave is going to be the new normal in the US.  We can guess that this change means more employees will go on family leave, and for a longer period of time, as they won’t need to worry as much about their bank accounts.

Companies should ask the following three questions to understand how they might need to adapt to this new normal:

  • Policies and procedures: How can my company create a seamless transition process for when employees go on leave and when they return?
  • Education – What training can my company offer to employees to make sure managers, direct reports, and the wider team have the resources and skills they need to operate effectively when an employee goes on leave?
  • Competition – How can my company differentiate its benefits plan from that of peers and competitors to recruit and retain top talent?


If a fortune teller had predicted in 2016 Bob Dylan would win the Nobel Prize in Literature and the US presidential candidates would guarantee paid family leave, I would never have believed them.  But as the 2016 Nobel Prize winner said, “the times they are a-changing.”