Paid Family and Medical Leave Introduced in Wisconsin

Late last week, a group of Democratic state senators in Wisconsin introduced a bill to provide for paid family and medical leave or 2017 Senate Bill 215. While it is unlikely to receive much more legislative attention given the current political control of all branches of Wisconsin government, it is a topic that has publicly generated an increased amount of discussion in recent years.

The bill calls for paid family and medical leave to work much like unemployment benefits currently operate in Wisconsin. Employees would pay a percentage of their income towards a trust fund established to distribute benefits to approved applicants. Family and medical leave benefits would be paid weekly and based on the individual’s average annual income as compared to the state’s annual median wage. For example, an individual who makes 30% of the state’s annual median wage would receive benefits of 95% of their average weekly earnings while an individual who earns at least 80% of the state’s annual median wage is eligible to receive 66% of their average weekly earnings as benefits.

Certainly, 2017 Senate Bill 215 does not relieve the administrative headaches that exist in Wisconsin due to similar but differing state and federal family and medical leave laws. Readers are likely well-acquainted that Wisconsin provides “buckets” of leave that grant employees a certain amount of weeks of leave depending on their reason while federal law provides for a mass of 12 weeks of leave for any and all qualifying reasons. The Wisconsin paid family and medical leave bill goes farther with paid and unpaid benefits in making employers with 25 or more employees eligible to provide leave and allowing for grandparents to take leave to care for grandchildren.

Another common issue for employers that remains intact under the Wisconsin paid family and medical leave bill is substitution of leave. An issue that is frequently overlooked by employers, Wisconsin law currently allows for employees to substitute “paid or unpaid leave of any other type provided by the employer.” By providing paid leave and keeping the substitution provision of WFMLA, employees face the prospect of extensive paid leave rights if employers do not carefully review other paid leave benefits they provide to employees.