(BISMARCK, N.D.) – Workers, businesses, and families would benefit from an optional paid family leave program being considered by the North Dakota Legislature. The House Industry, Business, and Labor Committee held a hearing today on HB 1441, which sponsors say would be a win-win for both employees and employers in the state. The bipartisan bill is sponsored by Rep. Karla Rose Hanson (D-Fargo) and Sen. Erin Oban (D-Bismarck).
North Dakotans occasionally need to step away from their jobs for personal reasons – because of their own illness or to care for a new child or a loved one. Around 11,000 babies are born each year in our state. According to the AARP, more than 62,000 North Dakotans serve as caregivers for a loved one. But in North Dakota just 12% of companies offer maternity leave and 6% offer paternity leave. Many workers can’t even earn a single sick day.
“Many North Dakotans are faced with an impossible choice,” Hanson said. “Do they stay in their job or bond with their new baby? Do they choose their paycheck over being by their dad’s side during the last two months of his life?”
HB 1441 creates a state-facilitated paid family leave program, which will be funded through private contributions from employees, employers, or a combination of both. The program would be optional for all employers and any North Dakota worker, including independent contractors or sole proprietors, giving equal opportunity for North Dakota’s growing “gig economy” workers to participate.
Participating employees would contribute six cents for every $10 in wages into the fund. A North Dakotan making $50,000 a year would contribute $300 per year. When an employee has an eligible event, they will draw from the paid leave fund instead of taking their salary or unpaid leave. They would receive 66 percent of their average weekly wage for up to 12 weeks in one calendar year with a cap of $1,000 per week.
Research shows that paid family leave helps businesses with improved recruitment, retention, productivity and profitability. If a company loses an employee due to a temporary personal event, they will have to re-recruit and re-train a new employee during a time when businesses are competing for talent in a tight labor market. To encourage business participation, an employer that pays for any or all of an employee’s contributions would receive a tax credit equal to 20% of the contributions they made on behalf of that employee.
“At a time when we are looking for ways to remain competitive in recruiting and retaining a qualified workforce, a paid family leave program is a tool we can provide to businesses,” Sen. Oban said. “In North Dakota, we pride ourselves on being pro-life and pro-family. A paid family leave program would go a long way in showing it.”
If passed, the paid leave program would be rolled out in phases, with contributions beginning in 2022 and withdrawals beginning in 2023.
Supportive testimony included AARP, the Williston Area Chamber of Commerce and a letter signed by 51 health care providers.
The Williston Chamber of Commerce’s testimony: https://www.legis.nd.gov/assembly/67-2021/testimony/HIBL-1441-20210203-5054-F-RICHTER%20LORDEMANN_RACHEL.pdf