Thanks to unpaid federal family leave policies, many American moms have to choose between bonding with the newest members of their family and a paycheck. One in four return to work within two weeks of childbirth. But as of January 2018, New York State families benefit from a new family leave policy that’s paid, allowing them to take time off without worrying about money. Signed into law in spring 2016, the program provides paid “bonding” leave to new parents, regardless of whether the child is born, adopted, or fostered. It also provides leave for employees who need to care for a sick loved one or assist their family when someone is deployed. By 2021, it will be “the nation’s most robust, strongest, comprehensive paid family leave,” according to Melissa Stewart, director of public information at the New York State’s Workers’ Compensation Board.
What are the program’s benefits?
This year, the law allows new parents to take up to eight weeks of paid leave at half their average weekly wage. This is capped at half the New York State average weekly wage, which is currently $1,305.92. An employee’s average weekly wage is calculated using their last eight weeks of wages; the NYS average weekly wage is updated each year. Benefits will increase every year until 2021, when employees will be able to take 12 weeks of leave and receive 67 percent of their average weekly wage, up to 67 percent of the NYS average.
Employers do not provide the benefits, nor do they pay for them. The program’s funding comes from a small payroll contribution of .126 percent of their weekly wage. Employee contributions are capped at $85.86 per year.
New York State’s law does not require parents to take their leave in one chunk. Parents can spread it out however they want, taking off one or two days a week for a longer stretch of time, for example. They also do not have to take the leave immediately, only within 12 months of the qualifying event. This means that employees who became new parents at the end of 2017 are covered by this program.
The paid family leave benefits are separate from short-term disability benefits. Stewart says it’s possible for new parents to be eligible for both, but that they can’t be taken at the same time. In that case, “a birth mother, for example, may choose to take short-term disability first and paid family leave second.”
How does the program differ from national benefits?
Nation-wide, new parents rely on the national Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for time off. But FMLA only applies to companies with over 50 employees and does not provide paid leave. New York’s policy, on the other hand, allows low-income parents to take time off to bond with their families, relieving financial pressure to immediately return to work. It also covers the vast majority of private-sector employees, provided that they’ve been at their employer for 26 consecutive weeks if they’re full-time. Part-time employees are eligible after 175 days of work, which do not have to be consecutive.
The law covers both parents regardless of gender. “It really equalizes things for fathers, who’ve traditionally not had the same opportunities to bond with a child,” Stewart says. If parents work for separate employers, they can take their leave together or consecutively, at their discretion. If they work for the same employer, however, it’s at the employer’s discretion if they can take it together or not. The employer cannot let only one parent take leave.
How can I request leave?
In order to request leave, employees should notify their employer 30 days in advance of a “foreseeable event”—a due date, an adoption date, or date of foster placement. If that is not possible, they should notify their employer as far in advance as possible. Once the leave starts, new parents have 30 days to file a claim. After employees submit a completed “bonding leave” form packet, which can be obtained from the employer, their employer’s insurance carrier, or from ny.gov/PaidFamilyLeave, employers have a three-day window to complete their part of the forms. If the employer does not do so, parents can proceed regardless by submitting their forms and supporting documentation to the insurance company. The insurance company then has 18 days to accept or deny the claim, which will go back to the beginning of leave.
The new paid family leave policy is “providing opportunities where there haven’t been opportunities before,” Stewart says. “This is really, really good news for a lot of people.”
For more information about the new paid family leave policy, visit ny.gov/PaidFamilyLeave. The website has resources including downloadable guides, fact sheets, and FAQs, a payroll deduction calculator for those who want to determine how the policy will affect their pay, and a calendar of webinars.