July 23, 2014 — Most House offices offer some amount of paid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (PL 103-3), but the amount of paid and unpaid time off varies significantly, Roll Call's "Hill Navigator" reports (Gale, "Hill Navigator," Roll Call, 7/21).
FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave annually for a serious illness or to care for a new child or sick family member (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/20). Congressional staffers are eligible for FMLA under the Congressional Accountability Act (PL 104-1).
"There are 435 policies for 435 different member offices" in the House, according to "Hill Navigator." For example, staffers working for House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) are eligible for 12 weeks of paid maternity or paternity leave. Meanwhile, staffers in House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) office are eligible for two paid and 10 unpaid weeks of maternity or paternity leave. Some offices do not have a set policy, and the default option under the Office of Employment Counsel's "model employee handbook" is that employees do not receive any paid leave.
Drew Hammill, a spokesperson for Pelosi, said, "Congress has, by tradition, delegated the responsibility of setting workplace rules to members themselves so this falls under that."
Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) -- who offers his staff eight weeks of paid maternity and paternity leave -- said that some lawmakers have told him they do not offer paid leave because they do not "want to be seen as giving federal employees perks." Quigley added, "I don't get the logic of that. Frankly, it's not a perk, it's a quality of life."
Beyond variances in policy, "Hill Navigator" reports that congressional culture -- which emphasizes face time -- makes some new parents, particularly men, reluctant to take leave for fear of losing their jobs.
2010 House Study Highlights Leave Discrepancies
Ninety percent of House offices offer some amount of paid leave under FMLA, according to a 2010 House Compensation Study commissioned by the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer.
The study found that 2.5% of offices that offer paid leave for the birth of a child only provided that option to female staffers. Meanwhile, 64% of offices that provided the option of paid maternity or paternity leave offered the same amount of time off for men and women, while nearly 80% of offices that provided the option of paid time off after an adoption offered the same amount of leave for both sexes.
In addition, researchers found that 40% of House offices require 12 months or 1,250 hours of employment before staffers are eligible for unpaid leave under FMLA.
Although Senate offices were not included in the study, their FMLA leave policies also vary by office, "Hill Navigator" reports ("Hill Navigator," Roll Call, 7/21).