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D.C. Council Approves Expansive Paid Family and Medical Leave Program

On December 20, 2016, by a vote of 9-4, the D.C. Council approved the Universal Paid Leave Amendment Act (Bill B21-0415), significantly expanding paid leave benefits for non-government employees working in the District.

The Act provides full and part-time employees with up to eight weeks of paid parental leave to care for a new child, six weeks of paid family leave to care for a sick relative, and two weeks of paid personal medical leave each year.  However, employees cannot claim more than eight weeks of leave annually.

Employees who take leave will receive a benefit equaling 90 percent of their wages per week, up to 1.5 times the minimum wage, and then 50 percent of their wages thereafter, up to a maximum benefit of $1000 per week.  The Act also includes anti-retaliation and enforcement provisions to protect employees who seek paid leave. There will be a multi-year implementation period before benefits become available.  Under the law, employees first become eligible for benefits in 2020.

The benefits will be paid out of a newly created Universal Paid Leave Implementation Fund which will be financed by a new payroll tax on employers, including nonprofits, beginning in 2019.  The new payroll tax will be equal to 0.62 percent of total wages paid to eligible employees.  A new D.C. government agency will be created to manage the fund and process benefit claims; employers will not be directly responsible for administering claims or paying benefits.

As of this writing, the bill is pending transmission to Mayor Muriel Bowser for mayoral review.  Mayor Bowser, who has opposed the proposal, can choose to sign the bill, veto it, or allow it to become effective without her signature after 10 business days have elapsed.  If the mayor chooses to veto the bill the Council can vote to override the veto.

The next step will be a 30-day period of congressional review during which Congress and the President may block the Act from becoming law.

The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center will have a detailed description of the new program available soon.