Universal Paid Family & Medical Leave


Countries without paid leave: Lesotho, Swaziland, Papua New Guinea, United States

The United States is the only country in the developed world without legally-mandated paid parental leave. Nationally, only 14% of families have access to paid family leave benefits through their employers. Additionally, this inequity impacts women and people of color the most. Women in the United States earn on average 82¢ for each dollar a man earns for the same work. This number is even lower for women of color, who have disproportionately less access to paid leave benefits.

The Need for a Universal Paid Family & Medical Leave Program

We can significantly change social and economic outcomes in the City of Seattle by implementing a paid family and medical leave program for all Seattle employees.

Current laws and policies addressing medical and parental leave for private sector employees are inequitable and fail to meet even the basic needs of workers who are experiencing a major life event. Existing state and federal laws protect the jobs of some employees who have a new child or experience a serious family medical event; however, the Washington State Family Leave Act (FLA) and federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) only provide workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave and only apply to people who work for employers with at least 50 employees.

Not only does this small-employer exemption result in limited access to the benefit, but many workers who have access do not utilize unpaid leave benefits because they cannot afford the lost income. The result, in practice, is that family and medical leave benefits are not realistically available to low- and mid-wage earners, causing further inequity in the workforce and in our society.

Because existing policies fail to meet the needs of working families, the City of Seattle is exploring the development of a Universal Paid Family and Medical Leave program for all Seattle employees.

Parental leave: up to 26 weeks // Personal Medical leave: up to 12 weeks // Family medical leave: up to 26 weeks

Research demonstrates that the following outcomes are associated with access to paid family and medical leave:

  • A reduction in the gender pay gap, increased female participation in the workforce and improvement in maternal economic outcomes, especially for low- and mid-wage earners and women of color
  • Improvement in social, educational and health outcomes for children, especially among vulnerable populations – children of parents who utilize paid family leave experience a reduction in infant mortality, an improvement in social abilities and an increase in graduation rates
  • More economic security for families and a decreased reliance on public assistance and food stamps
  • Increased competitiveness for Seattle’s businesses which will attract and retain more talented and dedicated workers by offering a meaningful benefit at an affordable cost to employers6
  • A stronger local economy with a healthier and more stable workforce

Covered Events

Parental Leave: for the birth, adoption or fostering of a new child // Up to 26 weks
Family Medical Leave: to care for a family member who is seriously ill or injured // Up to 26 weeks
Personal Medical Leave: for workers who experience a critical injury or illness // Up to 12 weeks

White Paper

Learn more about the proposed policy by reading the white paper from Councilmember M. Lorena González, available below:

Read the White Paper White Paper from Councilmember Lorena González: The Need for Universal Paid Family and Medical Leave