6 Takeaways from New York's Family-Leave Policy

September 26, 2016 Zuman

In early 2017, an exciting new piece of legislation will take effect in the city of San Francisco: paid family leave. The program - officially known as the "Paid Parental Leave Ordinance" - will cover the remaining 45 percent of a worker's weekly wages that isn't covered by California's Paid Family Leave program. As we've discussed in the past, America lags behind many countries in terms of supporting families; for instance, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that just 12 percent of U.S. workers are able to use paid maternity leave.

There are several other components to the ordinance, including rules about which employees are covered, supplemental compensation and rules for record-keeping. However, this ordinance is a huge step for a sustainable family leave model for the rest of the country. Now, the state of New York is joining the City by the Bay on the frontline of this most important process.

Breaking New Ground
According to A Better Balance, a family legal center that promotes equality through legislation, New York recently passed what it calls the country's strongest paid family leave program. The program, which helps cover wages for new parents and those caring for a sick loved one, will provide three full months of paid once it goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2018. As New York Magazine reported, this updated legislation builds upon New York's somewhat restrictive  Family and Medical Leave Act, which only lets some workers take time off and doesn't mandate payment. New York is now the fifth state to enact such coverage, following behind California, Washington, Rhode Island and New Jersey.

But New York's plan is especially noteworthy, and there are several important takeaways: 

1. Better Protection
Under the New York leave plan, workers are provided with job protection, meaning they can't lose their position because of time away. As well, health care benefits will continue during the entire 12-week leave. As it stands now, workers in New York only have this protection if already covered under the FMLA.

2. Time Adds Up
When the leave act goes into effect in 2018, workers will only be able to take eight full weeks off. That number will increase to 10 weeks in 2019 and 2020 and finally up to the full 12 by 2021. While it may take a few years for time off to increase, new mothers will have access to other programs, including pregnancy-related disability assistance.

3. Effective Funding
To properly fund the program, New York state takes a small deduction from employees' paychecks. For its family leave program, San Francisco relies on contributions to the California State Disability Insurance program.

4. Full-scale Coverage
Under the paid family leave program, almost all workers will be covered. Per ABB, if an employee can access New York's current Temporary Disability Insurance law, then they're also eligible for paid family leave. Additionally, there is no cap or restrictions based on a company's size. Men and women can take leave, and the program is also applicable to same-sex households.

5. Incremental Effort
Just as the amount of actual leave will increase over three years, so too will the amount of money provided. In 2018, workers on leave will earn up to 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage. That number will then increase up to 67 percent over a three-year period. According to NY Magazine, the state's average weekly wage as of 2014 was $1,266.44. That means even the highest-salaried workers in New York will take home $848 per week.

6. A Boost to Employers
As NY Magazine pointed out, many employers are worried about leave programs because of the resulting burden on the company, especially small businesses. However, as the American Women advocacy group explained, there have been studies about California's program that show generally positive effects. For instance, upwards of 90 percent of businesses said the program had either a positive or neutral effect on employee turnover, profitability or employee morale.


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