WASHINGTON — As Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian prepared for the birth of his daughter in 2017, he planned to take the paternity leave afforded to him by his company. "I was out talking about it, emphasizing I was taking my full four months to encourage other men to take this time," he told HR Dive in an interview. "As an employer, I wanted to show to my employees and to the industry that this is important."
But when his wife, tennis star Serena Williams, experienced complications leading to an emergency C-section during her daughter's birth, Ohanian's paternity leave took on more significance. "It became clear this was an issue that affects every American," he said.
Ohanian has since joined a campaign advocating for the legislation of paid family leave for all parents. "As a nation, we pride ourselves so much on family values. This is such a clear way to walk the talk — it's long overdue," he said. Ohanian called for the passage of a national paid parental leave law Oct. 22 in an address to legislators and advocates alongside fellow fathers, lawmakers and the campaign's sponsors, Unilever's Dove Men+Care and Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US).
Ohanian said he was "heartened" that paid family leave legislation has garnered bi-partisan support. Washington, for example, passed its paid family leave law in July 2017 with bi-partisan support, Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., noted at the event. This legislation has resulted in a significant boon for employers — one that can be replicated at the national level, Kilmer said; "We know we can bring more talented people into the workforce with paid family leave."
No one at the event endorsed a specific paid family leave proposal, of which there are several. The Workflex in the 21st Century Act, H.R. 4219, for example, would amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act to allow employers to opt out of compliance with state and local laws and instead offer a minimum amount of paid leave and flexible work arrangements. The FAMILY Act, S. 337, would create the Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave within the social Security Administration to offer up to 60 days of benefits for qualifying workers, funded by a payroll tax.
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced the Economic Security for New Parents Act, S. 3345, which would enable new parents to borrow from their Social Security. Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., have proposed a plan would give parents qualifying for the federal Child Tax Credit the option of getting an advance of up to $5,000 at the birth or adoption of a child.
Katie Bethell, founder and executive director of PL+US, said that while she does not endorse any proposal, she sees the FAMILY Act as the best option of those currently proposed, as it most fully, though not necessarily perfectly, incorporates the basic elements of what PL+US defines as a sufficient paid family leave law. The organization's ideal legislation would give new parents six months of paid leave with full wage replacement. It would be inclusive, as well, covering all types of parents and all types of workers, including independent contractors.
To fund the wage replacement, Bethell said the legislation would enact a social insurance model, a structure eight states have used in their paid family leave laws. "That's the model that's working," Bethell told HR Dive in an interview after the event. The details of this structure differ state by state, but the fundamentals stay the same: employees and employers make payroll contributions toward funding the insurance system.
Employers need not wait for legislation to pass to enact paid family leave policies of their own, several attendees emphasized. "I certainly would encourage employers to look at how they enact policies to support paid family leave," Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y., told HR Dive in an interview after the event. Such policies boost employee morale, retention and productivity, Bethell noted.
Still, legislation will prompt, guide and encourage employers to build generous paid family leave policies, providing "a floor to build off of," Bethell said. It's "no surprise" to her that California, which is among the states that have passed paid family leave legislation, is home to businesses — like Ohanian's Reddit, for example — that put forth paid leave benefits that go beyond what is mandated.