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8 Key Differences Between Workflex Act and FAMILY Act

There's been a lot of press about three current proposals to enact national legislation to provide paid leave for employees:

  • The Workflex in the 21st Century Act was introduced in November 2017 by U.S. Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Calif. It's also had strong support from SHRM, the Society for Human Resource Management.
  • The Family And Medical Insurance Leave Act, known as the FAMILY Act was introduced in February 2017. Its sponsors are U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-CT and U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY.
  • A third proposal, The Economic Security for New Parents Act, was introduced August 2018 by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL. As the name states, it aims solely at new parents. The act would create an option for them to pull forward a portion of their Social Security benefits to use for paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child.

Workflex Act Vs. FAMILY Act

In this article, we'll focus on the two broader proposals: the Workflex and FAMILY acts. It's easy to confuse them, but they're actually very different. And they're attempting to solve different issues:

  • The Workflex Act focuses more on standardization of paid sick leave. According to supporters, “The proposal is a new approach to expanding paid leave and workplace flexibility options for employees.”1
  • The FAMILY Act focuses more on specific reasons for leave being covered, with paid and job-protected time off. Its advocates say, “The FAMILY Act would create an affordable and self-sustaining national family and medical leave insurance fund, to provide workers with a portion of their wages for a limited period of time.”2

Two Different Goals

The Workflex Act focuses more on standardization of paid sick leave.

The FAMILY Act focuses more on specific reasons for leave being covered, with paid and job-protected time off.

Here's some light on the goals, advantages and challenges behind both bills. Plus, a side-by-side comparison chart.

Funding is one major difference. The Workflex Act would be funded solely by the employer, not employees. In contrast, the FAMILY Act would be funded by the employer and the employee through a small payroll contribution.

Voluntary versus mandatory. The Workflex Act would make it voluntary for employers to offer this leave. The FAMILY Act would mandate leave.

Employer-run versus federal agency. The Workflex Act would amend the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, known as ERISA. It would provide participating employers with flexibility in designing “Workflex” offerings. Employers would administer their own programs. The FAMILY Act does not amend existing legislation. It would establish a new federal agency to administer the program.


Workflex Vs. Family: 8 Key Differences
Workflex in the 21st CenturyFAMILY Act
Provides paid sick leave and flexible work arrangements (defines specific work arrangements)Provides paid and job-protected time off when someone is out for same reasons as under the FMLA
ERISA-governed plansNo clear mention so far of plans being ERISA governed
Supersedes in-force state and local paid sick leave lawsDoes not supersede plans already in force; would allow concurrent running or stacking leave
No clear definition yet of reasons you can take the leave, or the amount of leave or benefit amountsUp to 12 weeks of leave (likely following FMLA calendar: ex. 12 weeks every rolling 52 weeks)
Eligibility requirements slightly different from FMLA; would cover all full-time and part-time employeesEligibility tied to work credit rules of Social Security; would cover part-time employees and self-employed people
Paid for solely by employerPaid for by employee and employer
Benefits scaled based on size of the workforce, employee tenure and whether full-time or part-timeBenefits paid at 66% of wages up to a cap; may be portable
Voluntary opt-inMandatory participation for private employers — no opt-out mechanism; public employers may opt-in


What's next? A lot more back-and-forth. Breanna Scott, director of product and service management at The Standard, predicts that neither bill will move forward legislatively soon. Many details within the bills need to be worked out. Both are likely to go through rounds of debate and revision.

On the plus side, the issues of paid sick leave and paid family leave appear to enjoy bipartisan support. One bill is backed primarily by Republicans, the other by Democrats.

“It's a good thing to see these proposed at a federal level,” Scott said. “That's a sign that this activity will continue. Historically, the issue is further along than it's ever been.” She added, “It's heartening to see this momentum around the topic of employees getting federally recognized paid leave.”

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