As we’ve noted on this website before, the U.S. is one of the few developed countries that doesn’t provide paid family leave to employees when they have a new baby. In the absence of a federal policy, states are starting to take action on their own, and New York State recently enacted the most robust paid family leave policy in the country.
Beginning in January 2018, all New York workers who have been in a job for six months or more will be entitled to eight weeks of paid leave to care for a new baby or adopted child or to help a sick family member. The amount of leave will increase to ten weeks in 2019 and to twelve weeks in 2021.
Time off will be available to both mothers and fathers, allowing parents to stagger their time off for a total of six months. Staggered leave will enable parents to postpone the costs of placing a new baby in childcare, potentially saving families thousands of dollars.
Compensation for parents taking leave will start at 50% of the worker’s pay in 2018 and rise to 67% over four years; the pay base will be capped at the state’s average weekly wage, which in 2014 was $1,266.44. As a result, workers used to high salaries would receive only a small fraction of their normal pay. However, many of these workers are likely covered by a more generous company parental leave policy, such as Google’s, which would be supplemented by the payment made by the state.
New York’s leave benefit will be paid for with a small (about $1) weekly deduction from an employee’s pay. Businesses won’t have to contribute anything, but they must hold the employee’s job open until the employee returns to work. The law applies to all businesses, no matter how small, and applies to both full-time and part-time employees.
The new policy has been called “revolutionary” and easily surpasses the next most-generous state family leave laws in New Jersey and California, which each provide only six weeks of time off. New York’s policy may create momentum for other states to enact their own policies, particularly in Connecticut and Massachusetts, which are currently debating family leave legislation.
At the federal level, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Connecticut Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro have introduced the Family and Medical Insurance (FAMILY) Act, which would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program that would provide 12 weeks of paid leave to new parents nationwide.
As New York and other states provide much-needed relief for parents, we can only hope that eventually all parents in the U.S. will be able to enjoy new parenthood and bond with their child without having to worry about losing their paycheck.