D.C. government employees don't have paid medical leave. Lawmakers want to change that The employees who run D.C.'s paid leave program and the rest of the city's services are not eligible for it.
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D.C. government employees don't have paid medical leave. Lawmakers want to change that

Members of the D.C. Council unanimously support a measure to expand paid leave for city employees. Suzannah Hoover/WAMU/DCist hide caption

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Suzannah Hoover/WAMU/DCist

D.C.'s paid leave program offers two months of paid leave for new parents, two weeks for prenatal leave, six weeks for family caregiving, and six weeks for personal medical leave.

Implemented in July 2020, the program has been hailed as among the most progressive in the nation, helping to change perceptions of caregiving. But the people in the District who run that program — and the rest of the city's services — are not eligible.

It only applies to private-sector employees, not D.C.'s more than 36,000 city workers (or federal employees, for that matter). D.C. employees fall under a separate program, which was implemented years prior but offers less paid parental and caregiving leave and no paid medical leave.

Now the D.C. Council is seeking to change that. A bill introduced by At-Large Councilmembers Christina Henderson and Elissa Silverman would make up to 12 weeks of paid leave available, whether it be for new parents, family caregiving, or medical needs, along with two weeks of prenatal leave. A hearing has yet to be scheduled, but it was co-introduced with the unanimous support of the council. The goal is to have the expansion funded in the next city budget.

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A spokesperson for Mayor Muriel Bowser did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the bill. Separately, the city announced today it would offer temporarily paid leave for workers who have to isolate because they tested positive for COVID through April 2.

"Given the state of where the District is, we can offer our employees medical leave. We shouldn't have a situation where, if someone has to get a surgery, they either have to take their sick time or their annual leave or go ask their colleagues to be able to use some of their leave in order to recover," Henderson tells DCist/WAMU. "Our government is completely capable of providing that time off."

Henderson says that the proposal has been in the works since before the so-called "Great Resignation," in which U.S. employees have quit their jobs at historically high rates, often in favor of higher-paying employment. But it does allow the city to be competitive with the private sector when it comes to hiring and retaining workers, she notes, especially because the newer paid leave program has provisions to add additional benefits in the future, thanks to a surplus in the program.

The measure comes at a time when city services are stretched thin after two years of a pandemic that, among other things, has turned D.C. librarians into frontline distributors of COVID tests, and during which driver shortages decreased the amount of Department of Public Works employees who could clear the streets after the first significant snowfall.

In the first six months of the program, data from the D.C. Department of Employment Services shows a total of 5,710 claims under the private-sector paid leave program — more than 70 percent of those claims were for parental leave, whereas about 20 percent were for personal medical leave.

Noting that the majority of people who claimed paid medical leave in the private sector were Black and were women, Henderson said the extension to city employees "is also a way to bring about some equity."

This story is from DCist.com, the local news site of WAMU.

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