OBI and its partners have worked with legislative leaders this session to take initial steps to better align the Oregon Family Leave Act (OFLA) with the state’s paid family and medical leave insurance program, Paid Leave Oregon (PLO). OFLA allows people who work for companies with at least 25 employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for qualifying reasons. Beginning Sept. 3, PLO, an insurance program, will allow people who work for companies of any size to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave per year for qualifying reasons. Without legislative changes, it will be difficult for employers to juggle the administration of these programs, which differ in important ways that include, among other things, their plan years, definitions, qualifying conditions and job protections.
Negotiations have produced a bill, SB 999, that would make some changes to both programs. Following an amendment adopted April 18, the bill is expected to pass both legislative chambers intact. Below are notable changes employers should know about, as most of them become effective Sept. 3:
Concurrence: PLO statutes stipulate that available leave under both PLO and OFLA is drawn down concurrently if people use it for purposes allowed under both programs. Such reciprocity does not exist under OFLA, however, creating the possibility of leave stacking. The amended SB 999 creates such reciprocity, ensuring that leave taken for purposes allowed under both programs is counted concurrently.
Benefit Year: The PLO benefit year, defined by Oregon Employment Department rule, begins the Sunday prior to the day on which an employee first takes leave. Currently, OFLA provides four options employers may use to set a benefit year. The amended SB 999 replaces OFLA’s four options with PLO’s definition of benefit year so that they align. Employers may use the new OFLA definition as soon as the law becomes effective but must transition to this new definition for OFLA not later than July 1, 2024.
Definition of Family: PLO uses a more expansive definition of family than OFLA. The amended SB 999 expands the definition of family in OFLA to that used in PLO so that they align. Because the definition of family used in Oregon’s sick time law is tied to OFLA definitions, the change would affect sick time usage as well. The expanded definition would add the following to OFLA’s definition of family: relationship by blood or affinity; siblings and stepsiblings and the spouse or domestic partner thereof; and the spouse or domestic partner of a child, stepchild, grandparent or grandchild.
Also, because affinity can be interpreted broadly, the bill directs both programs to establish clarifying factors. In doing so, the programs will use agreed-upon factors modeled after Colorado’s family and medical leave insurance program.
Job Protections: Both OFLA and PLO require employers with 25 or more employees to offer equivalent positions to employees returning from leave if their original jobs are no longer available at the same work site. OFLA requires employers to offer equivalent positions at a site within 20 miles of the original site. The amended bill would increase this range to 50 miles, stipulate that the offer must be for the nearest job within that range if multiple jobs exist and clarify that the offer would be dependent on a job being available. The bill would copy this language into PLO for employers with at least 25 workers so that the laws align.
Unpaid Contributions: Employers are required to continue benefits while employees are on leave. Sometimes, employees on leave are unable to make their contributions to such benefits, and their employers cover those contributions. OFLA explicitly allows employers to recover such contributions within stipulated parameters. PLO is silent on this. Thus, while rules were adopted governing how such contributions could be recovered under PLO, the adopted rule — unlike in OFLA — requires permission from employees. The amended bill would align the programs by copying OFLA language into PLO explicitly granting employers this authority.
Agency Jurisdiction over Complaints: State law governing unlawful employment practices relating to PLO gives employees the right to bring civil actions or complaints with the Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). Additionally, state law outlines an appeals process administered by the Oregon Employment Department (OED) available to employers and employees. The amended bill provides that the civil action and complaint process involving BOLI would not be apply if a remedy existed under the OED appeals process.
The passage of this bill would represent an important step in better aligning these two programs. But plenty of work remains, and comprehensive alignment will best serve both workers and employers. Even with the passage of SB 999, the programs would contain different thresholds for employee tenure to qualify for benefits and job protections. Different agencies would still have roles in administration, appeals and enforcement. And leave would continue to be unpaid under one program and paid under another. OBI will continue to work toward complete alignment following the bill’s passage.