DC’s Paid Family Leave Plan Has Business Community Furious

Josh Fatzick | Reporter

The D.C. Council wants to implement new regulations forcing city businesses to give their employees 16 weeks of paid family leave each year, but some say the plan will destroy businesses.

City business leaders ripped the plan at a council hearing Wednesday saying it is misguided and would put businesses in the city at a disadvantage to surrounding jurisdictions.

“This bill is an anti-employment, anti-jobs bill,” Chris Coleman, president of the Tri-State Jewelers Association, said of the legislation.

Proponents of the bill say it’s necessary to give these new entitlements to D.C. residents to help them in the event of a crisis.

Council Member Elissa Silverman read several emails from people in the city who would have benefitted from the entitlements. One person she identified as “Josh” told her he wasn’t able to take time off from work recently to deal with the death of a parent.

“For residents that are facing these end-of-lives moments, this bill can’t come fast enough,” she said.

Under the proposed law, businesses, regardless of their size, would be required to pay into a Family and Medical Leave Fund. Business owners would pay into the fund based on what their employees earn.

Companies that employ high salary-earners would pay one percent of the salaries of employees who earn more than $150,000. On the other hand, low-income employers, such as minimum wage workers, would pay around 0.5 percent of each employee’s pay.

The new entitlement program language is written to be gender neutral, so both men and women would be allowed to take advantage of the paid leave. For the 16 weeks of leave, the district would provide benefits to people equal to 100 percent of their income up to $1,000 per week.

Some on the council compared the D.C. plan to paid leave programs in other states across the country, but none of them even come close to matching the benefits that D.C. politicians want to give workers, at the expense of business owners.(RELATED: DC Mayor Bucks Radical Plan To Give Workers 16 Weeks Paid Leave)

California and New Jersey offer six weeks of paid leave, less than half of the proposed 16 in D.C., and under the programs in these states, workers only receive upto 55 percent of their weekly wages. The D.C. Council proposal would offer workers 100 percent of their salaries while not working.

Jim Dinegar, President of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, dismissed claims by supporters that the council proposal is similar to those in California or New Jersey.

“This proposal is for three times as long, for three times as much,” and taxes D.C. businesses to pay for Maryland and Virginia workers, he said.

Charles Miller, general counsel at the Federal City Council, called the proposal “extreme, even in comparison to the most progressive jurisdictions” in the country, and said it would have many unintended consequences.

For example, he said, a worker could, after one week on the job, claim a sickness or the need to care for an ailing loved one, and take off work up to 16 weeks, and never go back to work.

“This would revive D.C.’s reputation as a high-tax, business-unfriendly place,” he said.

Council Member Jack Evans said he supported the goal of providing paid family leave to D.C. residents, but there are still some questions that need to be answered.

“Providing paid leave is certainly a worthy goal … but there are many concerns and issues that have to be addressed,” he said.

The Wednesday hearing was the first of three scheduled hearings to be held before the council votes on the bill. The next hearing will be held in January.

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