D.C. Modifies the Paid Family Leave and Local FMLA Laws

October 18, 2021

On Oct. 1, 2021, the D.C. City Council expanded the local Paid Family Leave law and the D.C. Family and Medical Leave Act (D.C. FMLA). The new laws entitle employees to three times as much paid medical leave and a new category of paid prenatal leave. The modifications also expand the group of employees eligible for D.C. FMLA.

Changes to D.C. Paid Family Leave

More Medical Leave. To date, D.C.’s Universal Paid Leave Act, better known as the Paid Family Leave law, has provided eligible employees up to eight weeks of paid parental leave, six weeks of paid family leave and two weeks of paid medical leave. Under the new law, employees are now eligible for six weeks of medical leave, rather than two. The law further expressly provides that medical leave may be used in the event of a stillbirth or miscarriage. Other changes to the law lay the groundwork for future increases or decreases in leave limits, depending on available funding.

New Prenatal Leave. In addition to expanded medical leave, the law includes a new category of paid leave for prenatal medical care. Under the new law, employees may take two paid weeks of leave for prenatal medical care before the birth of a child. Prenatal medical care includes “routine and specialty appointments, exams, and treatments associated with pregnancy provided by a health care provider, including pre-natal check-ups, ultrasounds, treatment for pregnancy complications, bedrest that is required or prescribed by a health care provider, and pre-natal physical therapy.”

In the past, leave taken under the Paid Family Leave law could not be “stacked”; the maximum amount of leave was eight weeks within a 52-week period, regardless of the number of qualifying leave events in that 52-week period. Under the new law, however, an exception exists for prenatal leave. Now, within a 52-workweek period, an employee may receive two weeks of paid prenatal leave in addition to the maximum amount of parental leave. However, an employee may not receive any combination of paid prenatal leave and medical leave that exceeds the maximum amount of medical leave (now six weeks).

Retroactive Application for Benefits. Finally, a change to the law requires employees seeking retroactive benefits to apply within 30 days of the qualifying leave event, unless the employee was unable to apply due to exigent circumstances. Exigent circumstances exist where the employee lacks the physical or mental capacity to file a claim, the employee is unable to reasonably access the means to file a claim, or the employer fails to provide the employee with notice of the employee’s right to file a claim.

Changes to D.C. FMLA

In addition to the changes to the Paid Family Leave law, the new law also amends the D.C. FMLA. To date, D.C. FMLA required eligible employees to be employed by the same employer for one year without a break in service. However, under the amended law, an employee is eligible for D.C. FMLA leave if the individual has been employed by the same employer for at least 12 consecutive or non-consecutive months in the seven years immediately preceding the date on which the leave will begin. Thus, with this change, an employee who works for three years, resigns and returns two years later could be immediately eligible for D.C. FMLA upon the employee’s return. The D.C. FMLA’s requirement that the employee worked for 1,000 hours now applies during the new non-consecutive 12-month period; the law no longer requires that the employee work 1,000 hours in the 12 months immediately preceding the need for leave.

Effective Date of the New Law

The law passed pursuant to emergency legislation and applied on Oct. 1, 2021. Although the emergency legislation expires 90 days after its enactment, D.C. also passed permanent legislation currently subject to a 30-day congressional review period. With the new law currently in effect and expected to be permanent, employers should update their policies and procedures related to Paid Family Leave and D.C. FMLA.

For questions about these changes, or about any other D.C. employment law, contact the authors of this article or another member of the McGuireWoods labor and employment team.

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