Virginia Democrats Introduce Bills for Paid Family and Medical Leave

Supermajority Education Fund

February 5, 2020

Democrats in both chambers of the Virginia legislature have proposed bills that would give workers 12 weeks of paid leave for a serious illness, a worker’s need to care for a family member or the birth or adoption of a child. With a Democratic trifecta in the Virginia legislative chambers and Governor’s seat, the bills have a good chance of passing.

This legislation would create a state-administered insurance fund into which workers and employers would pay. Under this plan, workers taking leave would be provided 80 percent of their regular pay for 12 weeks. Employers would also have money to help hire a temporary worker or pay workers who are making up for that worker’s absence.

If this legislation passes, Virginia will join the seven states and District of Columbia that have all passed paid leave for workers. Nationally, The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) provides some workers unpaid leave with the continuation of group health insurance. Most Americans, however, are dependent on their employers to determine their ability to take paid leave. According to a 2019 study by public policy think tank New America, 71 percent of fathers in the U.S. were at least partially paid and 57 percent fully paid by an employer during family leave. Fifty-two percent of mothers said they received partially paid leave, while 33 percent said they had fully paid leave. 

Virginia Senator Jennifer Boysko (D) and Jennifer Carroll Foy (D), member of the Virginia House of Delegates, introduced the paid leave bills. 

“The vast majority of working people in the United States do not have paid family leave or paid medical leave for serious health issues through their jobs,” Foy told Supermajority News. “This means that parents return to work before they or their new children are ready, loved ones are unable to hold the hand of a loved one during chemo treatments or at their deathbed, and workers too often cannot take time to receive treatment for or recover from serious health issues.” 

Still, some experts on paid leave say that while 12 weeks is a good start, it shouldn’t necessarily be the standard for paid leave. Marilyn Watkins, policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, told Supermajority News that the Virginia bill is “good,” but also “a very conservative, cautious, starting point and something to build from once it gets going.” Watkins added that to determine this amount of leave, “we need to start by looking at how much time do people really need.”

Although some businesses and industry groups in the state have opposed these kinds of proposals, Foy argues they can benefit from these laws. 

“The truth is, paid leave policies actually improve businesses’ bottom lines by reducing worker turnover, increasing productivity, and improving employee loyalty and morale. Moreover, worker-friendly policies attract the best talent to our state, which helps strengthen our economy,” Foy said.