Governor Youngkin’s Veto of Paid Family Medical Leave Bill Fails Virginia Workers and Families

By Diane Harris

4 min read.

On April 5, Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin vetoed Senate Bill 373, which aimed to establish a mandatory paid family and medical leave program in the Commonwealth. This decision leaves millions of Virginia workers unable to afford time off to care for themselves or their family members.

Under the proposed bill, Virginia workers would have been entitled to eight weeks of job-protected paid leave for the following reasons:

  • Caring for a new child (including adoptive or foster children).
  • Caring for their own serious health condition or that of a family member.
  • Meeting needs related to a family member’s current or upcoming active-duty military service.

To qualify for benefits under the proposed program, Virginia workers would have needed to meet two main criteria: submitting an application and earning a minimum of $3,000 in two quarters of their base period. However, Commonwealth employees, local officers, and employees of local school divisions would have been exempt from this program.

Paid Family and Medical Leave in the United States

Decades of research has shown that access to paid family and medical leave improves the health and well-being of workers and their families, leading to reduced infant mortality rates, improved access to and completion of treatments for cancer patients, and better maternal mental and physical health. Paid leave has also been shown to improve the economic security of working families by reducing worker turnover, improving job security, increasing labor force attachment for women, and leading to higher earnings for new mothers.

Despite these benefits, the United States is the only member country of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development that does not provide paid family and medical leave. While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers job-protected leave, its unpaid nature renders it unusable for many Americans who live paycheck to paycheck. In addition, over a third (39 percent) of Virginia workers do not have access to FMLA because of its stringent requirements regarding hours worked, length of tenure, and size of worksites.

Given this gap at the federal level, states have taken the lead in passing and implementing paid family and medical leave programs. Momentum has surged in recent years, particularly in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, which highlighted the lack of work-family policies in the United States. Notably, half of the state-level paid family and medical leave programs have been enacted in the last five years.

States or Districts that have enacted paid family and medical leave, in chronological order by date enacted.

State/DistrictDate EnactedDate Effective
New Jersey20082009
Rhode Island20132014
New York20162018
District of Columbia20172020

What the Veto Means for Virginia Workers

The Commonwealth has a voluntary paid leave program, and parental leave is provided for Commonwealth employees. But Governor Youngkin’s veto leaves nearly four out of five Virginia workers without access to paid family and medical leave through their employers. The lack of paid leave imposes significant financial strain on workers, forcing many to make difficult decisions between financial stability and their health and well-being. For example, when a full-time worker in Virginia takes time off to attend to personal or familial needs, they lose an average of $960 each week.

Workers of color, women, workers with disabilities, or members of other marginalized communities are disproportionately affected by the lack of paid leave. These groups are often overrepresented in low-wage industries, which are less likely to provide such benefits.

Paid Family and Medical Leave Moving Forward

While Governor Youngkin’s veto prevents the bill from being signed into law this session, the successful passage of the bill in both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly marks a significant milestone after years of advocacy. This progress reflects strong support and momentum within the state and paves the way for future legislative discussions, such as including safe leave or extending the proposed leave duration from eight to 12 weeks. The American Academy of Pediatrics has consistently supported a minimum of 12 weeks of parental leave, and international paid family and medical leave programs have shown longer leaves produce greater benefits.

The Democratic majorities in the Commonwealth’s Senate and House of Delegates have discussed making the bill one of their top priority pieces of legislation. This signals an increased push by Virginia policymakers to make paid leave a reality for their constituents.

The growing number of state-level programs and strong advocacy campaigns signifies a nationwide push for paid family and medical leave. This trend expands access regionally and intensifies the pressure for a federal program.