A new era has begun in New York – not one created by the raucous presidential election season, but rather one created by the votes of the State Assembly and Senate, and the stroke of the Governor’s pen. As of March 2016 New York State passed a law creating paid family leave. In doing so, New York joins only a handful of other states that have blazed this path – a path that has met with little success in the United States Congress.
Ultimately, the New York law will provide employees with up to twelve (12) weeks of paid leave from their jobs. Before this, the federal Family Medical Leave Act provided for twelve (12) weeks of unpaid leave, during which time an employee’s job and seniority were protected – but the federal FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees, and to employees who have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, and for at least 1,250 hours in those 12 months.
Now, once fully implemented, New York workers will be covered if they have worked for an employer (large or small) for at least six (6) months, and regardless of whether they are full- or part-time employees. Those who qualify for leave may take the leave upon the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for an ill family member. There is also the potential that leave can be used when a spouse is called to military service if there are other familial obligations in the home. The paid leave law will apply to male and female employees.
The leave is funded by a payroll deduction taken from employee paychecks – and there is no contribution by an employer. While even when fully implemented, in 2021, an employee will not receive a full paycheck during the leave period, the employee will receive up to 67-percent of the State’s average weekly wage.
Employees will be able to start taking paid leave (up to 8 weeks), if qualified and for qualifying reasons, in 2018. The law then phases-in to full effect by 2021.
The most important thing for employers to understand is that the leave is a “protected” leave – which means that when the leave period is over, an employee must be allowed to return to their same job (or a comparable job) with the same pay and benefits, and seniority.
As the law is implemented, and the landscape becomes clearer as to the implications of the new paid leave, employers and business-owners may wish to consult with an attorney having a labor and employment practice, to best understand how the new paid leave will impact their business, and their employer-employee relationships.