New York State’s Extensive New Paid Family Leave Act

Lev Craig

This summer, New York State finalized the regulations for New York’s new Paid Family Leave Benefits Law (PFL), which goes into effect on January 1, 2018. The PFL will expand New York’s existing Disability Benefits Law to provide paid leave for nearly all private employees in New York State to cover time spent caring for a new child, caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or assisting loved ones while a family member is deployed abroad on active military duty, with the guarantee that an employee who takes leave will be able to return to their job and continue their health insurance.

While polls indicate that Americans largely support paid family leave policies, no federal statute entitles employees to paid family leave, and only five states other than New York—California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Washington, and Washington, D.C.—have state-level paid family leave laws. According to last year’s National Compensation Survey, an annual survey conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 14% of civilian workers in the U.S. had access to any paid family leave whatsoever. And of those, higher-wage white-collar workers are much more likely to have access to paid family leave; 37% of those employed in the finance and insurance sectors have paid family leave benefits, in comparison to 5% and 6% of workers in the construction and hospitality industries, respectively.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a new child or for a family member with a serious health condition, provides access to family leave for many U.S. workers. But FMLA leave is unpaid, is not available for employees of smaller businesses, and is only available to employees who meet certain requirements. A significant percentage of U.S. employees therefore aren’t covered by the FMLA, and even those who are covered often aren’t able to afford the hit to their income an extended period of unpaid leave would cause.

New York’s new statute will be the strongest and most expansive paid family leave policy of any state in the country when it goes into effect in January. Leave under the PFL will be available to almost every private-sector employee in New York State to cover parental responsibilities during the first 12 months following the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child; caring for a close relative (defined by the statute as a spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, or grandchild) with a serious health condition; and when a spouse, child, domestic partner or parent of the employee is on active military duty or has been notified of an impending call or order of active duty.

Full-time employees (those with a regular schedule of 20 or more hours per week) will be eligible for paid leave after 26 weeks of employment, and part-time employees (those with a regular schedule of less than 20 hours per week) will be eligible after 175 days worked. The plan will be entirely funded through employee payroll deductions equal to 0.126% of an employee’s weekly wage (for example, a weekly deduction of 63 cents for an employee earning a weekly wage of $500) and will be phased in over the course of four years: in 2018, eight weeks of leave available at 50% of an employee’s regular weekly wage; in 2019 and 2020, 10 weeks at 55% and 60%, respectively; and, by 2021, 12 weeks at 67%.

While there is still more to be done—unlike the FMLA, the PFL does not provide paid leave for employees’ own serious health conditions, for example—the PFL is an important step towards ensuring that workers don’t have to choose between caring for their loved ones and earning a living. If you believe that your employer has violated your rights under federal, state, or city employment laws, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.