2023 Session: Paid Family Leave

Bills that didn't pass: HB236, SB360
We know families in Hawai‘i are strongest when we have time to heal from serious illness or injury, welcome a new child, or help a loved one recover or ease their passing. Everyone should be able to take time off to care for themselves or a loved one without risking their job or paycheck.

What is paid family leave?

Paid family leave allows workers to take time off and still receive part of their income when they need to care for their own serious health needs or those of a loved one, or to bond with a new child.

The United States is the only developed country without national paid family leave. To fill that gap, thirteen states plus the District of Columbia have passed paid family leave laws. Hawai‘i should join them.

Paid family leave includes:
• Parental leave – for parents, including fathers and adoptive and foster parents, to bond with a new child
• Medical leave – for a worker to recover from their own serious illness or injury
• Caregiving leave – for a worker to care for a family member with a serious health condition

In some states, paid family leave also includes:
• Deployment leave – to handle arrangements for military service
Safe leave – to deal with domestic violence, such as seeking a restraining order or relocating to safety

Though both provide time off, paid family leave is not the same as paid sick days. Paid family leave provides time off for major life events, like the birth of a child or extended illnesses. In contrast, paid sick days usually do not provide enough time for recovery from childbirth or a major medical event.

Why do we need paid family leave?

When Hawai‘i workers face life circumstances that make it impossible for them to work, they do not have any legal right to paid family leave. Currently, only one in four private sector workers has access to paid family leave. Lower-income workers in Hawai‘i – who are more likely to be Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander – are the least likely to have paid family leave, while they need that financial support the most.

The federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Hawai‘i Family Leave Law (HFLL) protect an employee from losing their job while they are caring for a sick relative or their self or bonding with a new child, but that leave is unpaid. And since the FMLA and HFLL apply only to very large employers, most Hawai‘i workers are not even eligible for that unpaid leave.

Most working mothers who give birth can get partial pay through Hawai‘i Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) to recover from childbirth, but TDI cannot be used by non-birth parents or to care for other family members. Meanwhile, Hawai‘i has 157,000 unpaid family caregivers, providing 131 million hours of care per year, and those numbers will continue to increase as our population ages.

We have been expecting Hawai‘i workers, especially moms, to just cobble together family care. We need paid family leave so that Hawai‘i families and businesses are never scrambling for piecemeal solutions when illness strikes, a serious caregiving need arises, or a new child arrives.

How does paid family leave help working families and local businesses?

Research has found that states with paid family leave have seen significant health, social and economic benefits. Families who have access to paid leave – especially working women – are healthier, more economically secure, more likely to stay in the workforce, and less likely to need public benefits.

It’s no mystery why: Paid leave helps children by helping their parents. New parents with paid family leave spend more time bonding with their children, improving health and education outcomes. And paid family leave allows workers to stay home to care for themselves or their loved ones without the economic and mental stress of losing their jobs or falling into poverty.

Research has found that paid family leave is good for business, because employees are more productive, which can help increase profits, and loyal, which lowers turnover costs.

Statewide paid family leave also helps even the playing field for small businesses. Currently, most small businesses cannot afford to offer adequate paid family leave to their employees, which puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to attracting and retaining the best workers.

With a statewide paid family leave program, small payroll deductions would go into a state fund, which workers would apply to when they need to take leave. Since employees would be paid from the state fund while taking family leave, employers would not need to pay them while they are on leave.

Enabling small businesses to provide paid family leave through a state program helps them compete for the best workers, and gives employers the peace of mind that they are doing what’s best for their employees. Not surprisingly, recent surveys show that two-thirds of small business owners support paid family leave.

Similarly, as Hawaii struggles to keep our working-age families from moving away, we are competing with states that have paid family leave – including California, Washington and Oregon – for the best workers. When young couples are deciding where to start a family, paid family leave may be an important deciding factor for them.

How does paid family leave work?

In most of the states that have passed paid family leave laws, the program:
  • Is a state-run benefit program, like Social Security or Medicare
  • Is funded by small payroll deductions that go into a state fund, which workers apply to when they need to take leave
  • Employers do not need to pay employees while they are on leave, since they are paid from the state fund
  • Is available to both full and part-time workers
  • Provides between 8 and 30 weeks of paid leave per year
  • Provides a higher portion of wages to lower-income workers, so they can afford to take the leave
  • Ensures that employees have a job to go back to after they take leave

The Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to analyze how paid family leave could work in Hawaii. With that grant, comprehensive research was conducted in 2017 by national experts and local organizations.

The family leave analysis report includes an economic analysis and eligibility and benefit modeling; a feasibility study; opinion polling of Hawaii workers; and focus groups of local labor unions, employers, parents, and family caregivers. Among many detailed findings, it found that paid family leave in Hawaii is:
  • Feasible
  • Not expensive
  • Supported by 94% of Hawaii workers
That report was followed by a 2019 Legislative Reference Bureau analysis of the impacts of the establishment of a paid family leave program on industry, consumers, employees, employers and caregivers. That report included Hawaii-based cost breakdowns as well as options for compliance and enforcement of a proposed paid family leave program.

No one in Hawai‘i should ever have to choose between their loved ones and their paycheck. It’s time for paid family leave in Hawai‘i.

Imagine what your life would look like if your family had access to paid family leave. It's time to ask your legislators: Are you doing everything you can to support families like mine? Take action by signing up here.

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