paid leave

Proposed Family leave changes: Have contractor determine eligibility

Betsy PriceGovernment, Headlines

paid leave

A bill to allow the Department of Labor to hire a third-party contractor to determine employee eligibility for the Paid Family Leave program starting in 2026 is moving through the General Assembly. Photo by Anna Shvets/Pexels.

Changes continue to Delaware’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Program, which became law in 2o22, and was sold as a way to give all employees, not just those at big companies, paid leave for emergencies and become a parent.

Originally called the Healthy Delaware Families Act, it created a statewide insurance program to provide up to 80% of wages for eligible Delaware workers for up to 12 weeks per year for parental leave and six weeks over two years for caregiving and medical leave.

It is to be administered by the state, cost $17.7 million and be paid for through a 0.8% payroll contribution split between the employer and the employee. For example, an employee who makes $1,000 per week would pay $4 per week and so would their employer.

On Tuesday, the House Labor Committee seemed set to approve House Bill 438, which would allow the state Department of Labor to hire a third-party contractor to determine eligibility, and take that task away from businesses themselves.

It’s a move supported by business groups, including the New Castle County and Delaware State chamber of commerces, and contractors, all of whom spoke in favor of the bill.

They said using a third-party to make eligibility determinations saved small and mid-sized businesses the administration burden  and also protected them from liability and the likelihood of lawsuits over the issue.

Joe Fitzgerald of the New Castle chamber noted that Connecticut has adopted a third-party contractor for its program and that seems to be working well there.

The fiscal note on the bill was incomplete, meaning it was impossible to say how much that would add to the cost of the program. That is usually remedied between the time a bill appears in committee hearings and hits the chamber floor for debate.

Rep. Deb Heffernan, D-Bellefonte, who sponsored by bill said that she was bringing it up at the request of businesses and the Department of Labor.

Not all the details were hammered out, she said, a point echoed by Rachel Turney, deputy secretary of the state Department of Labor.

“We’re not in complete alignment with what the bill is, as it’s written today,” she told the committee. “We are working and developing the costs associated with changing that eligibility determination or determination from benefits from the employer to the department and so we will continue to work with you and the comptroller general’s office.”

The committee did not have enough members present to vote the bill though, but chairman Edward S. Osienski, D-Newark, said he would take the bill to other members to vote yes or no. Because Democrats have a majority in the House, it’s sure to pass.

Both GOP members of the committee voted yes.

One of the early sticking points was a passage that would require the Department of Labor to check with the Office of Child Support and be sure child support — including back child support — was taken out of checks.

Leave and child support

Rep. Franklin D. Cooke, D-Wilmington, seemed shocked by the idea and heavily questioned how that would happen.

He wanted to know how much would come out and how the worker would know.

If a worker is expected to get a check of $600 and only gets half that, without knowing it, it would seriously impact that worker’s ability to pay his or her own bills, he said.

Darryl M. Scott, director of the Division of Unemployment Insurance, said it was a routine move. The department is in contact with the Office of Child Support with all payments, he said, and that office tells them how much to withhold. 

Payments should be no different than they would be if the worker was on the job, he said.

The changes to the bill also removed a provision allowing employers to require employees to use accrued paid time off before accessing family and medical leave benefits and count that accrued paid time off toward the total length of leave allowed.


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