The California and New Jersey paid family leave programs work much the same way, although the leaves, which are up to six weeks long in both states, are not job-protected.
A majority of nearly 300 California businesses surveyed by a D.C. nonpartisan research center reported in 2011 a positive or neutral effect of paid leave on profits, turnover and productivity. Ninety-nine percent said it boosted employee morale. And 91 percent found no abuse of the system, which has been a major sticking point for many opponents in the business community. Those that did said it was "rare."
The California paid-leave law passed in one session in 2002, despite fierce lobbying against it by nearly 1,000 businesses. The push for it included not just working mothers but a vocal group of fathers and "sandwich generation" workers, responsible for caring for aging parents.
In New Jersey, a coalition of business owners including Herb Greenberg, chief executive of a recruiting company, joined the fight for paid family leave, saying that retaining "top talent" by providing flexibility to handle work and family demands was a "no-brainer."
It is support from businesses that has given the growing grass-roots movement steam, advocates say. A recent poll for the Small Business Majority found that two-thirds have formal or informal leave programs and a plurality support employee-funded paid family leave.
"There's a real convergence around these issues now," said Ellen Bravo, head of Family Values @ Work, a coalition pushing for family-friendly workplace policies.
Gillibrand said family-friendly policies "not only make for a healthier work environment and more productive employees, but more loyal employees, because they have the flexibility they need to take care of their families."
But the federal Family Act faces steep hurdles in Congress. The FMLA took nearly a decade of often bitter debate before it passed Congress and was signed into law in 1993. Smaller attempts to pass paid leave for federal workers have failed repeatedly in recent years. And opponents in the business community warn against saddling strapped businesses with another government mandate.