On Thursday, New York became the fourth state to enact a paid family leave program — and the bill is unprecedented in some important ways.
The state’s recent budget agreement would eventually provide employees across the state 12 weeks of time off at two-thirds pay to care for a sick family member or new baby. This doubles the paid time offered in California and New Jersey, and triples the time offered in Rhode Island.
The law will be phased in starting January 1, 2018, and
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the program will be funded entirely through an employee payroll deduction of about $1.40 a week, “so it costs businesses — both big and small — nothing.”
According to Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work, which campaigns for paid leave programs across the country, New York’s program will allow nearly 8 million New Yorkers to care for sick family members and bond with a new child, including adopted and foster children, regardless of the parent’s gender.
“Family Values @ Work and the 23 other coalitions in our network commend New York for setting a paid family leave standard for the rest of our country to follow,” she says.
The US is currently the only developed nation in the world that doesn’t ensure any paid time off for new parents, according to a report from the International Labour Organisation.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, people working at companies with at least 50 employees must be allowed to take 12 weeks off work following the birth of their child, but that time does not have to be paid. The policy is also restricted to full-time employees who have been with the company for more than a year, which, all told, applies to about 60% of workers in the US.
In New York, however, most workers will be eligible for paid leave and job protection, regardless of their employer’s size.
In 2004, California became the first state to implement a paid-family-leave policy that enables most working Californians to receive 55% of their usual salary for a maximum of six weeks.
Since then, only New Jersey and Rhode Island have actualized similar programs.
According to a report last year from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, more than 90% of employers affected by California’s paid family-leave initiative reported either positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, turnover, and morale.
Another study, from the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University, found that women who had taken advantage of New Jersey’s paid-family-leave policy were far more likely than mothers who hadn’t to be working nine to 12 months after the birth of their child.
The study also found these women to be 39% less likely to receive public assistance and 40% less likely to receive food stamps in the year following a child’s birth compared to those who didn’t take any leave.
Without the guarantee of paid leave while caring for a child or sick family member, many workers are faced with the choice between economic hardship and returning to work prematurely.
According to a 2012 report from the US Department of Labour on family and medical leave, about 15% of people who were not paid or who received partial pay while away turned to public assistance for help. About 60% of workers who took time off reported it was difficult making ends meet, and almost half reported that they would have taken longer time off if more pay had been available.
As President Barack Obama said during one of his weekly addresses, “Family leave, childcare, flexibility — these aren’t frills. They’re basic needs. They shouldn’t be bonuses — they should be the bottom line.”
New York Sen. Jeffrey Klein called the state’s new paid leave program the best in the nation and said it will make “a tremendous difference” in many New Yorker’s lives. “Nobody will ever have to choose between what their heart tells them to do and what their bank account allows them to do.”
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