Democratic lawmakers in the Wisconsin Legislature introduced a bill to expand the Wisconsin Family and Medical Leave Act (WFMLA) and to create a new family and medical leave insurance program.
Under current law, all employers with 50 or more permanent employees must allow employees to use applicable WFMLA leave to which the employee is entitled. The proposed legislation would lower the threshold for employer coverage from 50 employees to 25 employees.
The bill also permits an employee to take family leave as provided under current law to care for a grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the employee who has a serious health condition. These categories would be in addition to the categories for which employees can take leave for purposes of a serious health condition under current law.
In addition, the bill requires an employer to permit an employee to take family leave because of any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the spouse, child, domestic partner, parent, grandparent, grandchild or sibling of the employee is on deployment with the U.S. Armed Forces to a foreign country (covered active duty) or has been notified of an impending call or order to covered active duty.
The proposal would also create what the authors have described as a “self-sustaining” insurance benefit that “would not cost employers any money.” The authors summarize the proposal in this way: “Employees pay for the benefit by contributing a certain percentage of their check into a trust fund.” The bill creates a family and medical leave insurance program under which a covered individual who is on leave is eligible to receive up to 12 weeks of family or medical leave insurance benefits from a new family and medical leave insurance trust fund created under the bill. The authors indicated that the proposal is modeled on already-existing programs in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island that have created self-sustaining funds.
The proposal related to an insurance program was also introduced in the last legislative session and failed to make it out of committee. The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) estimated it would cost a total of $14,000,000 to administer the program along with 85 new full-time staff. DWD estimated the program would pay out $182,000,000 annually from the trust fund. Additional details regarding the fiscal impact of the bill are available in the fiscal note for the proposal from the 2015 legislative session.
It is unlikely that this proposal will move out of committee or the Republican-controlled Legislature. It serves, however, as an indication of the priorities of Democratic lawmakers who, although currently in the minority, may some day reemerge in a majority position within the Wisconsin Legislature.