By Kelly Fantasia, PHR, SHRM-SCP
Come January 1, 2018, private employers in New York will be obligated, under state law, to provide Paid Family Leave to employees who take temporary leave in order to care for a newborn, foster, or adopted child (anytime within the child’s first year in the home) or a seriously ailing relative, or to handle extra home responsibilities due to a family member being called up for active military duty. The program is expected to be among one of the most comprehensive offered in the country.
Paid by employee payroll deductions or by contributions made by the employer of the offering company, Paid Family Leave will phase in over a four-year period.
Generally, here’s how the step-up payouts will work. Starting in 2018, a full-time employee who’s completed 26 weeks of service or a part-time employee who’s completed 175 days of service, can take advantage of the program. That employee must give their employer advanced notice, if at all possible. Of course, it’s always a good idea to put that notice in writing. These employees will be eligible to take paid leave for a maximum of eight weeks per each 52-week period at 50% of their current salary. In 2019, the maximum allowable absence will move to ten weeks at 55% of salary. Finally, in 2020 and 2021, employees will be allowed a maximum of ten and twelve weeks at 60% and 67% of salary, respectively. However, all payments are not to exceed one-half of New York State’s Average Weekly Wage, which is set by the state each year. Because the 52-week period begins on the first day of an employee’s extended absence, it can include more than one calendar year.
Employers are required to obtain a Paid Family Leave insurance policy. They’re also mandated to continue to provide health benefits throughout the employee’s leave (provided the employee continues to pay his or her share of premiums just as they would if they weren’t on leave). But employers aren’t obligated to give employees other benefits commonly earned while actively working (such as the accrual of additional time off). Employers are also legally bound to offer the leave-taker their job back at the end of their leave period.
It’s important to know that the Paid Family Leave program pertains to just that. This program is designed to allow employees the time and means to help out their family members and is not meant to cover employees, themselves. If an employee needs to take a leave for their own serious health matter, for example, other employer benefits like short- and long-term disability would be used to provide that employee with some financial resources during the time that they’re out of work.
If you’re a New York state employer, it’s recommended that, before the start of the new year, you take a close look at the leave policies that currently exist within your organization and that you condense and modify those policies and your company handbook to reflect this important change.