Virginia lawmakers seek paid family medical leave

ROANOKE, Va. – Virginia lawmakers are pushing for paid family medical leave for the sixth year.

The federal government requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of leave for a qualifying event, such as caring for a family member with a serious health condition. However, the federal law doesn’t require employees to be paid for this time off. The proposed bill in the Virginia General Assembly would change this for workers.

“We’re talking about caring with someone with cancer or an end-of-life situation or a long-term illness. And these are very common. Companies are already having to deal with it, and a lot of people have to actually leave their jobs because they cannot continue to care for themselves with the loved one and show up to work every day,” said bill sponsor Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-38.

The bill would cover up to 12 weeks of paid leave for any worker who has a qualifying life event, like a new baby, a family member with a serious health condition, or even yourself if you have a serious health condition. Administered by the Virginia Employment Commission, it would work similarly to the unemployment insurance we all have. Both employees and employers would put money into the program. Employees would pay about one-half of one percent of their salary. So, if an employee makes about $50,000 a year, the employee would pay a little more than $4 a week. Also, employers with less than 10 workers won’t have to contribute at all.

While larger corporations sometimes offer benefits that cover paid family medical leave, smaller companies, like the mom-and-pop shops, do not have these benefits. The proposed bill would help them tremendously.

Owner Shirley Modlin with 3D Design and Manufacturing, said she doesn’t offer a leave program.

“There have been several instances in the 17 years of this business that employees have needed time off or bereavement on unforeseen events,” said Modlin, “They have to take their paid time off if they’re going to get paid because again, we cannot afford to sustain the leave program,”

Modlin said that while she doesn’t offer the program, she still tries to help her employees.

“In the past, I had an employee who unexpectedly, by a car accident, lost his uncle who was like his father. That was very emotional as this employee has been with me since inception. And all I said to him was take as much time as you need, and you will be paid. And that’s what we did,” said Modlin.

Modlin’s business isn’t alone, about 78% of Virginians don’t have paid family medical leave, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“I hear from small businesses a lot that they’re often losing our employees to larger corporations that come to the state that maybe offer things like affordable health care, they offer access to affordable childcare in some capacity, and they offer paid family medical leave, and they offer retirement programs. So, it can be really hard for them to compete for those sorts of things,” said Public Policy Director Awesta Sarkash with the Small Business Majority.

The bill is currently in the Senate Finance Appropriations Committee.

Currently, 11 states offer paid family medical leave, including Maryland. Washington, D.C. also offers a similar program.


About the Author:

Keshia Lynn is a Multimedia Journalist for WSLS. She was born and raised in Maryland and holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Law and Society from American University and a Master’s degree in Mass Communication from Arizona State University’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism.