Now the fourth state to offer paid family leave, New York recently passed the most generous and ground-breaking paid family leave policy in the country. New York state employees who have been employed for twenty-six (26) or more consecutive weeks will now be eligible for up to twelve (12) weeks of paid family leave. The law has no exception for small employers, like other protected leave laws. The new law will provide for job protection during the employees’ leave, protection against retaliatory discrimination or termination, and the continuation of health care benefits during the leave period. Employers may require that the paid family leave run concurrently with other unpaid family leave policies. Employees may take the leave intermittently in increments of one full day at a time (or one-fifth of the weekly benefit).
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Specifically, eligible New York state employees will now have paid family leave to care for:
- Sick Family – To participate in providing care, including physical or psychological care, for a family member of the employee made necessary by a serious health condition of the family member (paid leave for an employee’s own serious medical condition will remain under New York state’s disability benefits laws); or
- New Children – To bond with the employee’s child during the first twelve (12) months after the child’s birth, or the first twelve months after the placement of the child for adoption or foster care with the employee; or
- Military Family Members – To address any qualifying exigency as interpreted by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, arising out of the fact that the spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent of the employee is on active duty (or has been notified of an impending call or order to active duty) in the armed forces of the United States.
The paid family leave provisions will phase-in starting 2018, with full implementation by 2021. Initially, starting on January 1, 2018, eligible employees will have up to eight (8) weeks of paid leave at 50 percent of their average wage rate. During the following two years, the paid leave period will increase to ten (10) weeks with payment of up to 60 percent of the employee’s average wage rate. By 2021, eligible employees will be able to take the full twelve (12) weeks of paid leave at a rate of 67 percent of their average wage rate.
Designed to put minimal strain on employers, the benefits are funded by employee contributions made through payroll deductions – about a dollar per week, per employee –imposing no direct funding burden on the employer. The system is similar to other states that have similar paid leave programs, discussed below. In New York, the benefits will become a part of the state’s Temporary Disability Insurance (TDI) program, which means there will be no new administrative changes for employers. However, small businesses may inevitably suffer. The cost of hiring and training replacement employees to cover the employees taking advantage of the new law may be difficult for some small employers. Nevertheless, the new law is welcomed by many as long overdue – the United States is currently the only developed country in the world with no national paid maternity leave policy. Other countries offer substantially more generous leave laws for new moms – 58 weeks in Japan, 52 weeks in Canada, and 39 weeks in the United Kingdom, for example.
Still, at least in the United States, New York’s new law offers the greatest benefits among the other states offering similar paid leave policies to their workforce, which include New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island. Additionally, California’s governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on April 11, 2016 to expand California’s paid family leave to offer greater benefits – 70% of their wages, up from 55% – starting in 2018. However, the new bill will not increase the maximum leave period from the current maximum of six (6) weeks. The District of Columbia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts legislatures have also recently considered proposed paid family leave laws. Washington passed a paid leave law in 2007, which has not yet been implemented. Even on a city level, the city of San Francisco recently passed the best benefits in the country – 6 weeks of fully paid family leave for new mothers and fathers, including same-sex couples, who either bear or adopt a child. Given the recent trends, it is likely we will continue to see legislative changes and greater employee benefits provided at all government levels, from local municipal authorities up to the national level.
New York’s Paid Family Leave Law was a part of state budget legislation that also raised the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, which is set to be implemented using a schedule based on county and size of the employer. Given the growing trend nationally and state-wide to offer employees greater benefits and wages, it is imperative for employers to closely monitor these changes to ensure compliance and to prepare for increased administrative costs.