State Initiative

Continuing the Rally for Paid Family Medical Leave in States

Nov 3, 2021

ZERO TO THREE and CLASP recently hosted several states at a virtual joint economic security convening. Among other presentations, participants heard from Andrea Paluso of Family Forward Oregon about how equity was centered in the design and passage of the state’s PFML policy. Oregon currently has the most inclusive paid family and medical leave insurance law in the nation.

The Oregon program is set to be fully implemented in 2023. At that time it will:

• Be available to all working Oregonians except federal employees (regardless of size of employer, hours worked, type of industry).

• Recognize different family types, including non-blood related family.

• Protect workers from discrimination and retaliation for using it; full job protection after 90 days of employment with employer.

• Be affordable for both workers and employers

• Provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for self and family care and an additional 2 weeks for parental leave.

The Oregon Time to Care Coalition was instrumental in ensuring the success of the legislation. The coalition is made up of community advocacy groups, labor organizations, public health organizations, senior groups, children’s groups and more. The group listened to many voices and was careful to agree on a strict set of principles in crafting the legislation:

  1. ALL CONDITIONS: Workers will be able to use paid family and medical leave for addressing a personal serious health condition or the serious health condition of a family member (including non-nuclear and chosen family members); caring for a new baby, a newly adopted child, or a newly placed foster child; or any purposed covered by 659A.159;
  2. ALL WORKERS: Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits are available to all qualified workers, regardless of the size or sector of their employers, whether they work full-time or part-time.
  3. SELF EMPLOYED & TRIBAL GOVTS: There is a mechanism for self-employed individuals and tribal governments to opt into the program;
  4. ADEQUATE: Paid leave is sufficient in length and structure for its covered purposes and includes specific language to cover the range of well-established reasons people need time away from work, such as, but not limited to, those established under the Oregon Family and Medical Leave Act (OFLA);
  5. FAMILY MEMBER: An updated version of the definition of “family member” that recognizes diverse families and types of care responsibilities. The current definition of family member excludes many types of family members, including siblings, extended family members, chosen family members, and others.
  6. ACCESS FOR LONG-TERM CAREGIVERS: Benefits are available to attend to serious health conditions that require noncontiguous care or care that doesn’t require leave in full weeks, as long as the leave is predictable and regular each week (similar to OFLA’s intermittent leave). Unpaid family caregivers, those caring for aging or disabled family members or similar situations may not need to take a full week of leave, but are still responsible for providing or arranging for care for themselves or a family member on a regular schedule each week. Noncontiguous paid leave should be available for those who have regular and predictable caregiving needs. There is a mechanism for self-employed individuals and tribal governments to opt into the program;
  7. JOB PROTECTION: Paid family and medical leave is available without any adverse employment consequences, workers are protected against discrimination or retaliation for needing or taking leave — regardless of employer size, industry, or a worker’s part-time status. Employment protections shall be enforced by a private right of action and the Bureau of Labor and Industries;
  8. PORTABILITY: Paid family and medical leave insurance benefits are portable and coverage is attached to the worker, not attached to a particular employer. This ensures that if a worker changes jobs or experiences a period of unemployment, they don’t have a lapse in coverage. Similarly, if a worker holds multiple jobs, their insurance coverage needs to be available across employers.
  9. PUBLICLY-OWNED AND MANAGED: Paid family and medical leave benefits are provided through a publicly owned fund. The state program should utilize existing state systems and wage data already being collected by state agencies (for verifying income and determining the level of benefits) where possible.
  10. NO PREMIUM RATING: Paid family and medical leave insurance coverage premium levels are consistent across industry, race, gender, occupation, age, etc, because the need for paid family and medical leave is universal and often totally unpredictable. No one should pay higher premiums because of bias based on who may or may not take more leave or longer lengths of leave.
  11. ADEQUATE WAGE REPLACEMENT FOR ACCESS: Paid family and medical leave provides income replacement sufficient to allow workers to take the time they need without jeopardizing their ability to afford basic living necessities, like housing and food.
  12. PROGRESSIVE WAGE REPLACEMENT: Benefits provided by the paid family and medical leave insurance program have a sliding scale to provide low-income workers with a higher percentage of wage replacement while placing an appropriate cap on the level of benefit any worker can receive from the program, ensuring access to the program across income levels;
  13. SHARED CONTRIBUTIONS: Is funded from equal contributions from employers and employees made through a payroll deduction at a level sufficient to ensure a fiscally solvent and self-sustaining program;
  14. ACCESSIBLE ELIGIBILITY: Establishes employee eligibility requirements that ensure accessibility such as, but not limited to, the total overall hours worked to qualify for benefits (i.e. required contributions in order to be eligible), establishing a worker’s current wages and benefit amount and appropriate waiting period before benefits are paid; and
  15. OUTREACH: Includes a public education and outreach component that includes a public education campaign to inform workers and employers of the availability of paid family and medical leave and provide outreach materials in English and any other primary language spoken by a significant percentage of the state’s population.

Currently, 10 states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and the District of Columbia) have some form of a statewide PFML structure. A handful of states also have smaller PFML packages available to specific groups of employees. While quality and implementation vary across programs, these examples can help to guide other state advocates and policymakers

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