President Barack Obama made many promises during the campaign that he would expand workers' rights and benefits. Among these was Obama's commitment to expand the list of reasons that an employee can take protected leave from his or her job, specifically including recovery from domestic violence. Currently, the Family Medical Leave Act lists pregnancy and serious illness as legitimate reasons for medical leave, but it is silent on the subject of domestic violence.
To accomplish this goal the administration has expressed support for the Healthy Families Act. The bill mandates new requirements for leave, specifically that employers with 15 workers or more must grant employees one hour of paid leave for each 30 hours worked, for a maximum of seven paid days of leave per year.
In addition, the bill adds recovery from domestic violence to the list of allowable reasons to take leave. "Without paid sick days that can be used to address the effects of domestic violence, these victims are in grave danger of losing their jobs," reads the text of both the Senate and House versions of the bill.
Rep. Rose DeLauro, D-Conn., and the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., introduced versions of the bill in 2005 and 2009. On both occasions the bill stalled in committee and expired after the new session of Congress began. DeLauro re-introduced the Healthy Families Act in May 2011. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, did the same in the Senate. History seems to be repeating itself, however, as both bills are awaiting action in committee.
We discounted the possibility of the Healthy Families Act passing through Congress in a previous promise update. If the bill did not come to vote during the previous session of Congress, when Democrats held strong majorities in both chambers of Congress, it's even more unlikely to pass through the currently Republican-controlled House of Representatives.
Efforts to add domestic violence to the Family Medical Leave Act as unpaid leave have similarly borne no fruit. The Domestic Violence Leave Act, introduced by Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D-Calif., in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in 2009, stalled in committee and subsequently expired without becoming law. (In addition to domestic violence. the bill would have added sexual assault and stalking to the list of acceptable rationales for work leave.) Woolsey included similar provisions in the omnibus Balancing Act of 2011. This bill, however, is primarily supported by Democratic lawmakers and seems unlikely to find support in the Republican-controlled House.
Given these political realities, efforts to expand the Family Medical Leave Act to include domestic violence has met an impasse. As a result, we rate Obama's promise as Promise Broken.