Paid family leave: a growing trend
Legally mandated family leave policies have a relatively short history in the United States, and a requirement that the leave be paid is even shorter. In 1993, Congress enacted the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) after finding that employees were having to choose between working and taking care of their family members. The purpose and goal of the FMLA is to assist employees in balancing work demands and family needs by providing eligible employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave under certain circumstances and to promote equal employment opportunities by granting leaves on a gender-neutral basis.
Though United States lags behind most of the world on paid family leave laws, these types of laws are quickly gaining ground. Much like the recent rise of paid sick leave and “ban-the-box” laws, this movement has begun on the city and state level. Here is a breakdown of some current state-mandated paid family leave laws:
California funds its paid family leave program through employee payroll deductions. They have had paid leave provisions in place since 2002, but it was expanded in 2016 to accommodate a much larger portion of the employee population. In 2018, the new law will require that employees taking family leave be paid 70% of their wages if they qualify as a lowest-paid earner, defined as those making up to one-third of the state’s average weekly wage of $1,121 currently. For almost all other workers, the rate will be 60%, up to a maximum weekly benefit of about $1,200.
The New Jersey Family Leave Insurance Law (NJFLI) provides eligible employees with up to six weeks of paid leave each year, financed by employee contributions and paid through a plan administered by New Jersey or, at the employer’s election, a private plan approved by the Division of Temporary Disability Insurance, to bond with a newborn or adopted child during the first year after the birth or adoption and/or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. The NJFLI is a wage replacement statute. It does not provide job protection. However, if an employee is entitled to FMLA and/or NJFLA leave and the paid leave is substituted for unpaid leave under either or both of those laws, the employee has job protection for the period for the FMLA and/or NJFLA leave.
In addition, New Jersey employees generally are covered under the State’s temporary disability law, which provides paid leave for employees with covered medical conditions, including pregnancy-related conditions and recovery from childbirth. Employers can require employees on temporary disability leave to use available FMLA leave during periods of temporary disability. However, temporary disability leave does not run concurrently with NJFLA leave, as the NJFLA does not cover an employee’s own serious health condition.
New York only recently enacted a paid family leave law, which contains some of the most generous provisions of any law of its kind. Once fully implemented in 2018, the Paid Family Leave Act will provide almost all employees in New York up to 12 weeks of paid family leave. This law provides job protection in that it prohibits employers from firing workers while they are taking paid leave. Employers must also continue to provide their employees with any pre-established health benefits during this time. The family leave benefit is funded through employee payroll deductions and does not require an employer contribution.
Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program (TCI) became effective as of January 5, 2014. It is funded through employee-paid payroll taxes and administered through a state disability program. The TCI provides up to four weeks of wage replacement benefits to workers who need to take time from work to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, or grandparent or to bond with a newborn child, adopted child, or foster child. Bonding claims may be requested only during the first 12 months of parenting. Proof of a parent-child relationship is required.
Applicants are responsible for obtaining the required medical documentation from the Qualified Healthcare Provider (QHP) of the seriously ill family member/care recipient. This includes obtaining the care recipient’s signature on any QHP-required release-of-information forms.