In December, the District of Columbia passed the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act of 2016 (UPLA), a measure that is poised to become the nation’s most generous paid family and medical leave law. The UPLA entitles employees to eight weeks of paid parental leave, six weeks of paid family leave, and two weeks of paid medical leave benefits every year. Fortunately, employers will have plenty of time to prepare. The UPLA still has a few more hurdles to clear before it becomes law and benefits won’t begin until July 1, 2020.
The UPLA applies to all private sector employers that are required to pay D.C. unemployment insurance taxes on behalf of their employees and to self-employed individuals who choose to opt in to the program. The law provides three types of leave to covered employees:
- 8 weeks of parental leave within one year of the birth, adoption, or foster care placement or guardianship of a child
- 6 weeks of family leave to provide care or companionship to a family member with a serious health condition
- 2 weeks of medical leave for an employee’s own serious health condition
A covered employee is one who works more than 50 percent of his or her time in the District. A covered “family member” includes a biological or legally-related child, parent, parent in-law, grandparent, domestic partner, spouse, sibling or an in loco parentis parent or child. A “serious health condition” includes a physical or mental illness or injury that is treated in an inpatient facility or requires continuing treatment by a health care provider. It does not include routine medical examinations or minor illnesses treated by over-the-counter medications and bed rest.
Limitations on UPLA Benefits
Initially, the UPLA imposes a one-week “waiting period” on benefits for the first week of any eligible leave. In addition, employees may not receive more than 8 weeks of paid leave benefits in any 52-week period. UPLA leave runs concurrently with D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act. Also, the UPLA does not provide job protection to employees taking leave from businesses with 20 or fewer employees. Furthermore, the UPLA does not address the District’s Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act (ASSLA) benefits. Presumably, individuals can use ASSLA benefits to cover the UPLA waiting period and for routine health care.
Funding and Enforcement
The UPLA program will be funded through a 0.62% employer payroll tax. The collection of this tax is scheduled to begin on July 1, 2019.
The UPLA protects employees who request or use UPLA leave from retaliation. An employee will be able to file a complaint or a private action against an employer for a violation of the employee’s rights. Finally, the UPLA will require all employers to post in the workplace and distribute a notice to employees that explains their rights. The penalties for failure to provide these notices are steep.