Letter to the Editor: Change to paid family leave would be step back

The John A. Wilson Building at 1350 Pennsylvania Ave. NW holds the offices for the mayor and D.C. Council. (photo courtesy of Josh Gibson)

Following almost two years of debate and public consultation, the D.C. Council passed the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act in December 2016. By guaranteeing eight weeks of paid leave for new parents, six weeks to care for a sick family member, and two weeks in the event of a personal illness or injury, the law provides a financial lifeline to people who might otherwise have to choose between their jobs and their families. Yet the D.C. Council is now considering alternative legislation that would dramatically undermine the program — at grave risk to all of us who work in D.C.

Under the law, as passed by the council in December, the benefit would be funded by a 0.62 percent payroll tax and disbursed from a citywide pool administered by the government. Everyone working for a D.C. employer (excluding the federal and D.C. governments) would be eligible to claim the benefit, and the city would serve as a neutral administrator.

Although the law passed by the council (and subjected to rigorous debate) provides for this payroll tax and governmental administration and enforcement of the benefit, the council is now considering alternatives that would place control in the hands of large businesses. Council members Mary Cheh (Ward 3) and Jack Evans (Ward 2), with support from Council member Brandon Todd (Ward 4), have proposed alternatives that would allow larger businesses to pay directly for and self-administer the benefit, depriving D.C. workers of neutral administration and enforcement.

These alternatives incentivize businesses to engage in bad behavior and put D.C. workers at risk in several ways. First, corporate control incentivizes discrimination in hiring; businesses think they will save money by not hiring individuals who are likely to use the benefit, such as women of childbearing age and older individuals. Second, corporate control incentivizes business to discourage workers from taking leave or to deny leave without good reason. Third, corporate control incentivizes retaliation against people who file benefits claims (including firing, denying promotions and cutting hours), which sends a message to other employees that they are also at risk if they attempt to claim their benefits. Workers who make the least money are the most vulnerable to this kind of abuse from employers.

The council already considered and rejected corporate control over paid leave when it passed the act in December 2016. The council should similarly reject corporate control now and stand strongly in support of D.C. workers and their families.

Erin Palmer, Manor Park