US agencies to expand feds’ paid and unpaid leave opportunities

By on 09/02/2023 | Updated on 09/02/2023
Biden said lack of access to paid family and medical leave can "risk the health, wellbeing, and economic security of workers and their families". Photo by Gage Skidmore via Flickr

President Biden has instructed agencies to expand paid and unpaid leave opportunities for federal staff, as part of his administration’s bid to make the US government a model employer.

In a memo dated 2 February, Biden said his administration supports a comprehensive national programme that allows workers to access paid leave to care for a baby or a seriously ill relative, to grieve the death of a loved one, to recover from domestic violence or sexual assault, to help manage affairs when a family member is away on military duty, or if they are seriously ill themselves. In line with this ambition, he said the federal government – which is the nation’s largest employer – “must be a model” for providing leave policies.

He pointed out that the US is one of the few countries that does not guarantee paid leave and that 92% of the nation’s lowest paid workers, who are disproportionately women and people of colour, do not have access to paid family leave through their employer.

“Lack of access to paid family and medical leave can risk the health, wellbeing, and economic security of workers and their families. Paid leave policies benefit both employees and employers and will strengthen our economy as a whole,” he said, adding that unpaid leave can “serve as a critical stopgap”, allowing individuals to attend to family or medical matters without leaving their jobs.

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Biden acknowledged that being a model employer involved updating workplace policies and practices and recognising employees’ caregiving relationships with family members and others. As such, as well as expanding leave opportunities for feds overall, he said agencies should also consider allowing new recruits to take extended leave under certain circumstances, particularly during their first year in federal service when they may not have accrued sufficient leave and are not eligible for leave under the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. The Act allows Americans to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they are seriously ill or to care for an ailing family member or a new child without risk of losing their jobs.

By supporting employees’ access to leave throughout their service, the federal government would strengthen its ability to recruit, hire, develop, promote and retain talent, and address barriers to equal opportunity, “especially with respect to women’s participation in the federal workforce”, Biden wrote.

In all cases, the heads of executive departments and agencies have been instructed to consider providing unpaid leave, if paid leave is not an option.

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Seeking safety and support services

Agency head are expected to report on progress towards implementation of the memorandum to the White House Gender Policy Council in February 2024.

Separately, the Office of Personnel Management is to make recommendations within 180 days on actions it and other agencies may take to support feds’ access to paid and unpaid leave to seek safety and recover from domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

The memo outlined that leave could be granted for the purposes of obtaining medical treatment – including mental health treatment; accessing support services for survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault; relocating for safety reasons; or to take related legal action. It said leave could also be granted to feds to allow them to assist family members taking such steps.

The latest leave policy comes after lawmakers passed legislation in 2019 granting federal employees up to 12 weeks per year in paid leave in connection with the birth or adoption of a child, and the approval in 2021 of up to two weeks paid bereavement leave following the death of a child.

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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