5 Paid Family Leave Trends to Watch in 2019

By Breanna Scott

Mar. 15, 2019

In 2018, Microsoft surprised employers and policymakers alike when it announced a new requirement for its vendors: give contract workers at least 12 weeks of paid leave after having a child, or risk losing the tech magnate’s business. For HR managers nationwide, this was just one of many signs that the conversation surrounding paid family leave is growing from a slow burn to a steady fire.

While federal action on paid family leave has been a nonstarter in decades past, large organizations along with state and local legislatures are pushing Washington to reassess its commitment to national paid time off. As an HR manager, understanding the following national trends and local changes surrounding paid family leave will help you better assist both employers and employees in navigating future policies and complex legislation.

Expect vendor-leave mandates to become more common

While only some organizations are currently mandating vendors to implement paid family leave, it’s likely that trends like these will only increase over time. After all, it’s no secret that paid family leave is rapidly growing in popularity. Around 6 in 10 Americans say they have taken or are very likely to take time off from work for family or medical reasons at some point, and around 8 in 10 support paid family leave for new mothers (around 7 in 10 support paid family leave for new fathers). These numbers are expected to grow, with employers seeking to provide additional benefits for high-quality employees in an increasingly competitive talent market.

Watch for paid family leave on the federal agenda in 2019

The midterm elections shifted political balances in many states. With major shifts in both the House and Senate, it’s likely that a reinvigorated version of the FAMILY Act will move forward. The 2017 bill proposed 12 weeks of paid leave for family and personal medical needs, seeking funding through a 0.4 percent payroll tax split between employers and employees. Previous pre-midterm legislation is less likely to gain new life — this includes the Economic Security for New Parents Act and Workflex in the 21st Century Act.

While a divided federal government may make the likelihood of paid family leave reform less likely in the near future, there has been significantly more bipartisan discussion on this topic than in years past. Both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate and House are discussing introducing legislation this year. In addition, longtime congressional veterans, political newcomers and even presidential candidates have made it a core component of their platforms, signaling a renewed interest in moving the needle on this topic.

Look to states for the future of paid family leave

Three states launched or approved paid family leave in 2018:

  • New York’s Paid Family Leave Act went into effect last year, with up to eight weeks of paid leave for covered employees. This has increased to 10 weeks in 2019, along with increases to benefits and payroll deductions.
  • Washington state will launch its paid family and medical leave program on Jan. 1, 2020. The program offers up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, 12 weeks of paid medical leave, or 16 weeks paid leave total. Employers will have to choose between the state-run plan or otherwise submit their own plan.
  • Massachusetts signed paid family and medical leave legislation that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2021. The program will offer up to 12 weeks of paid leave for family member care or caring for a new child, plus 20 weeks of paid leave for personal medical issues.

As the conversation around paid family leave continues, it’s important to take note of these major state-level policies. As of Jan. 1, 2019, 21 states have had a version of a paid family and medical leave bill introduced in either chamber of their state legislature. State legislation will likely serve as a framework for future employers and politicians looking to provide paid family leave in their respective districts.

Expect increased regulation and complexity

While policymakers are responding to the need for paid family leave, complex legislation may make the process of providing leave across state lines a difficult process. It will likely fall to HR managers to sort through the various paid family leave policies that multistate employers face.

Keeping track of individual state legislation and paying attention to national discourse surrounding parental and medical leave trends will help tremendously as paid family leave administration becomes increasingly complex. Additionally, outsourcing help as needed when faced with the prospect of new legislation will free up the valuable time required to study and implement new or revised programs.

Above all, be ready

While each of these trends point to a renewed interest in providing quality paid family leave to millions of Americans this year, the broader message is clear: Leave policies and the administration surrounding them will only become more complex in 2019. As an HR manager, your best frontline defense is a thorough understanding of the local and national trends surrounding leave policy.

Your organization will look to you to make sense of where the conversation is moving — and, when the time comes, they will seek your insights when putting a revised or new paid family leave plan into action. Getting a jump-start on the larger conversation, paying attention and outsourcing as needed are your best tactics for success in 2019. It’s up to you to use them wisely.


Breanna Scott is the director of product and service management at The Standard.

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