Commenting on paid leave recently, U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez said:
We are on the cusp of huge breakthroughs on paid family leave and paid sick days. I believe that in 30 years, we will look back at this as the moment we began to turn the corner, when a sleeper issue finally began to awaken and when grass roots momentum began to gather steam and roll toward a broad national consensus.
No one can seriously doubt that we are on a cusp of expanding paid family leave and sick days. The number of jurisdictions with paid sick leave laws has more than doubled in a year; numerous states are focused on how to provide pay during family and medical leave.
Secretary Perez looks into his crystal ball and predicts that 30 years hence, we will look back to today as the moment when “we began to turn the corner” toward a national consensus on paid family leave and sick days. We are all familiar with the admonition that past results are not a guarantee of future performance. But based on the proliferation of leave laws in the past 30 years, I suspect that in the next 30 years, the compliance challenge for employers will grow exponentially and from the leave management perspective, employers will be longing for “the good old days.”
Thirty years ago, there were no federal leave laws and just a smattering of state leave laws, most relating to workers compensation and pregnancy. Since then, the federal government has passed the Family and Medical Leave Act and the ADA, the latter referred to by at least one EEOC Commissioner as an “inadvertent leave law.” Beyond that, we have a stew of state and municipality leave laws. A dozen or so states have passed their own versions of family and medical leave laws, some of which are similar to the federal FMLA, others much less so, each with its own idiosyncrasies. Then we have 22 jurisdictions (3 states and 19 cities), and counting, that have enacted paid sick leave (PSL) laws. There is no consistency in these laws: what employers are covered; what employees are eligible; what notice an employer must give or an employee must give. Also, it is unclear whether or how these PSL laws are integrated into the state and federal family and medical leave laws. There is a collection of other state and local leave laws dealing with family and medical issues, but you get the picture. Add it all up, and the leave management challenge for a multi-state employer committed to compliance is daunting.
Can it get any more complicated? I have asked myself this many times. Looking into my crystal ball, the answer is “absolutely.” More leave laws with little or no consistency and no effort to integrate them into a coherent leave approach will make leave management more complicated, and that is what is likely to occur in the next 30 years. Perhaps the focus of leave laws for the next 30 years should be on uniformity and integration. Let’s look to the future for that direction.