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.