BISMARCK — North Dakota advocacy groups are calling for the state to adopt a paid family leave policy that would help workers and their families through difficult health issues.

Landis Larson, president of the North Dakota AFL-CIO, and Kristie Wolff, executive director of the North Dakota Women’s Network, held a virtual news conference Wednesday, May 6, to promote the United Together for Paid Family Leave initiative.

At least eight other states, along with many European and Asian countries, already have laws protecting families during times of sickness, maternity leave, or pandemics, North Dakota has none.

“There is currently no policy in North Dakota, and no federal requirement to pay family leave,” Wolff said. “We need to provide workers with earned benefits to provide for 21st century needs.”

“We really need to get the Legislature on board and get this passed in the next session,” Larson said. “The majority of people who have paid leave in the U.S. are management ... the ones who work easiest from home. The least people who get it are hospitality, leisure, and their wages are the lowest.”

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Rep. Karla Hanson, D-Fargo, testified on House Bill 1509 last year, which proposed a similar policy for paid family medical leave. The bill failed to pass with a 75-17 vote.

“I want to emphasize that this is not a government handout,” Hanson said during her testimony. “It is not a freebie entitlement program. The U.S. is the only developed nation in the world without a national paid parental leave policy.”

The bill, as proposed last year, would create earned benefits that both employers and employees invest in, Hanson said.

Larson, who's on North Dakota's Workforce Development Council, said such a law would draw much-needed workers to the state. “It’s an open secret that North Dakota does not have the pay and benefits that other states offer. This would be a big plus for bringing families to North Dakota,” Larson said.

Research shows that paid family leave helps retain employees, improves morale and loyalty, and helps companies avoid costs of retraining employees, Wolff said. Paid family leave gives businesses the flexibility to take care of their employees and maintain a “robust workforce,” she said.

Funding for the initiative, if it becomes law, might be a mix of private and public funds, working similarly to workers compensation or unemployment, Larson said.

“There are policies throughout the nation, and it would be up to the legislative body to make a decision on how to fund, either with a payroll tax base, shared by employees and employers, or some other means,” Wolff said.