Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut, one of the original authors of the FMLA, announced on February 1, 2007, that he would introduce a bill seeking to expand the FMLA to cover employers with 25 employees and provide paid leave for at least 6 of the 12 weeks provided by the FMLA. Senator Dodd is the chairman of the children and families subcommittee of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Alaska’s Republican Senator Ted Stevens announced his intention to co-sponsor the bill.
The effect of lowering the employer coverage threshold to 25 employees from the current 50 employees would provide FMLA leave to an estimated 13 million additional employees. The bill will also permit employees to take job-protected FMLA leave to address the effects of domestic violence. On the state level, Florida enacted legislation last year establishing protected leave due to domestic violence.
Under Dodd’s legislation, the bill would provide paid leave and “would create a $400 million pilot grant program to help states to design ways to offer six weeks of partial or full paid leave, which would count toward the FMLA-allowed 12 weeks of leave, for eligible employees who take time to care for a child or family member.” States could elect to compensate employees directly or through an insurance program such as workers’ compensation or unemployment.
Since the enactment of the FMLA, Senator Dodd and others have introduced legislation virtually every year seeking to expand the scope of the FMLA and provide paid leave. Considering the current political climate, the new administration, and the change in leadership of the House and Senate, it is far more likely that this legislation will be seriously considered. This legislation deserves to be monitored because a substantial number of smaller and mid-sized employers would be required to comply with cumbersome and complex legislation that most larger employers with vast resources struggle with regularly.