Business

Senate prepares to approve paid family leave bill

PAT GREENHOUSE/GLOBE STAFF/FILE

The Massachusetts State House.

The Senate is expected Saturday to debate and approve a bill that would make Massachusetts one of the few states to require employers to offer paid time off to care for a newborn child or sick family member.

The House isn’t expected to take up the legislation before lawmakers adjourn from formal sessions on July 31, leaving little chance for the measure to soon become law. But backers said the Senate’s expected approval could give the bill momentum next year, when it will probably be reintroduced.

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The measure, which emerged from the Senate Ways and Means Committee this week, would establish 16 weeks of paid family and medical leave and up to 26 weeks of disability pay.

The legislation would create a new state-administered fund to pay for the benefits. Employers would make contributions based on a worker’s salary, although they could require their employees to pay up to half the cost.

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“No one should have to choose between a paycheck and caring for a new child or a sick relative,” said Senator Karen Spilka, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

The Retailers Association of Massachusetts and National Federation of Independent Business fired off letters to senators on Friday, urging them to kill the bill and complaining about its unknown costs. They see it as an unfair imposition on employers that would discourage job growth.

“Business owners are really angry, I can tell you that,” said Bill Vernon, NFIB’s state director.

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The bill mandates the benefit for state employees, but not municipal or federal workers. The level of benefits would rise over three years, growing to 90 percent of an employee’s pay in 2020. The benefits would be capped at $1,000 a week, an amount that would increase to keep pace with inflation.

Workers would have to be at a job for 1,250 hours before the benefit kicks in, matching a threshold for the federal law that guarantees job protection for people who leave to care for a new child or family member. That federal law, though, doesn’t mandate any pay.

Not every business group opposes the bill. It has been championed by the progressive Alliance for Business Leadership. Board member Beth Monaghan, chief executive of Waltham public relations firm InkHouse, gave an impassioned testimony in February at the State House in favor requiring paid family leave.

On Friday, Monaghan said the bill would offer more parity in the workplace for women because many don’t come back to their jobs if they have to choose between returning too early or struggling through an extended unpaid leave.

“We have to find a way to embrace it if we want equality to happen,” said Monaghan, whose firm offers employees up to 12 weeks of paid family leave. “Women bear the burden of care. The truth is, it [often] falls to women. When we don’t have paid leave, it penalizes them.”

The paid leave benefit would work similar to unemployment or Social Security:

■ Companies would contribute to a new state fund and can pass some of the costs to employees

■ Family and medical reasons would be covered up to 16 weeks.

‘No one should have to choose between a paycheck and caring for a new child or a sick relative.’

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■ Disability would be covered up to 26 weeks.

■ The benefit would be phased in, and capped at $1,000 a week.

■ Workers would be eligible after working 1,250 hours at their company.

Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto-@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.
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