Just a few weeks ahead of the New York state primaries, the legislature broke some momentous news on March 31 that will impact millions of families in New York. The news was so good that we nearly had to pause, and double check it wasn’t an early April Fool’s Day joke!
New York state will become one of 5 states (joining California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington — though Washington has never actually implemented it’s law) that has passed paid family leave in the U.S. Moreover, New York is leading the pack by offering the most generous policies in the country.
If you’re wondering what paid family leave means, we’ll break it down for you. It means that you will receive some amount of money when and if you ever need to take a leave of absence from work due to any of the following 3 reasons (1) having (or adopting) a baby; (2) because you need to take care of a sick member of your family; or (3) because a family member’s military service creates a need for you to spend some time away from your work.
If you don’t know why this is so groundbreaking, the background context is that the United States is one of only a handful of countries in the world without federally paid maternity (much less, parental) leave in the world. Under the federal law, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) certain employees of companies that employe more than 50 people and meet other qualifications such as tenure have the right to unpaid parental leave of up to 12 weeks and job protection during that time if they return to work within that period of time. Under FMLA, an employee may take time off to care for an ill family member or newborn, but the financial reality is that most people cannot afford not to work for that long. 12 weeks off with no pay is simply economically unfeasible for the vast majority of American workers. Moreover, many employees of small businesses don’t receive FMLA protection because their employers aren’t large enough for them to qualify.
Without federal protections, states have passed maternity and parental leave laws, making it possible for workers to raise and take care of families (as well as earn a living). New York is joining California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington state in providing state-mandated paid family leave. Washington state passed a law but it has never been implemented. In the other states’ cases, California and New Jersey offer 6 weeks of paid family paid leave (up to a weekly cap), while Rhode Island offers 4 weeks of partially paid family leave (again, up to a weekly cap).
To add to the matrix of federal of state family leave protections, many large private employers
pick up the slack where the law doesn’t offer much. Companies offer paid leave or take out short-term disability insurance policies for employees (i.e. usually intended for pregnant, female employees) in order to give workers financial protection after they have children. These policies often do not cover men, domestic partners, or other family care-taking responsibilities, though employer policies vary greatly (we’ve tried to provide some semblance of a summary through our parental leave and maternity leave database).
If you’re currently expecting, it may be premature to start celebrating (on behalf of yourself, anyway). The caveat to the New York state law is that it doesn’t kick in until 2018. And when it does, it will gradually phase in in terms of the amount of paid coverage. In the first year, employees will be able to take 8 weeks of leave per year, followed by 10 weeks in 2019 and 12 weeks in 2021. Capped at 2/3 of New York state’s average weekly wage, workers will receive some percentage of their take-home salary (not 100%). That said, having some amount of money after childbirth or an illness in the family can mean a world of difference for the state’s most financially vulnerable families.
It’s certainly something worth toasting to this weekend!
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