Biden calls for expanding federal workers' access to leave
US President Joe Biden will call on Thursday for government agencies to expand federal workers' access to paid and unpaid leave as he joins former President Bill Clinton to mark the 30th anniversary of the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act.
The law, the first Clinton signed after taking office, guarantees that certain workers may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave without losing their jobs or health insurance benefits. The law applies to public agencies, schools and private-sector employers with at least 49 employees.
Biden, whose legislation ensuring paid family and medical leave for Americans has been thwarted by Republicans - and some Democrats - in Congress, is determined to keep pushing on the issue, including through executive action, said Jen Klein, director of the White House Gender Policy Council.
On Thursday, he will issue a presidential memorandum calling on federal agencies to support access to leave without pay for federal workers, including during their first year of service.
The leave would cover caring for a new child, dealing with their own or a family member's serious health condition, managing family affairs when a family member is called to active duty, or grieving the death of a family member, the White House said.
The Defense Department this month expanded its paid parental leave program to allow both active-duty parents to take 12 weeks off after the birth, adoption or placement into the long-term foster care of a child.
Biden's memo also directs the Office of Personnel Management to provide recommendations on paid and unpaid "safe leave" for federal workers affected by domestic or dating violence, sexual assault or stalking, according to a White House fact sheet.
"This event is a moment to recognize the difference that the Family and Medical Leave Act has made and continues to make for millions of Americans," Klein said.
She said the Biden administration would "do whatever we can do by executive action" to advance protections for workers while continuing to push for national legislation ensuring paid family and medical leave.
The United States is the only wealthy country where women on maternity leave receive no pay.
The memo directs agencies to use their discretion to aid workers, especially during their first year of service before they qualify for family and medical leave or paid parental leave.
Heather Boushey, a member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said such changes would buttress the strength of the US economy. Increased women's workforce participation had added about 10 percent - or US$2.14 trillion - to the US economy since the 1970s, she said.
Boushey said a recent study estimated that about 56 percent of US workers - or 90 million people - had care responsibilities outside of their full-time jobs, and the situation was growing direr given the ageing population.