In what is being called one of the most comprehensive programs of its kind in the United States, New York State has enacted a paid family leave law that will ultimately require employers to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of paid, job-protected leave per year to care for a new child or for a family member with a serious medical condition, as well as when a family member is called to active military service. The program, which will be funded entirely through employee payroll deductions, was approved as part of a hotly-debated state budget agreement that also includes a statewide incremental increase to a $15 minimum wage.

Beginning on January 1, 2018, the new program will require employers to provide all full- and part-time employees who have been working for the employer for at least 6 months with up to 8 weeks of paid leave at a rate of 50 percent of the individual’s average weekly wage (capped at 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage).

Over the following two years the paid leave period will increase to 10 weeks and rates of 55 percent (in 2019) and 60 percent (in 2020) of the employee’s average weekly wage. The phase-in will culminate in 2021 with a requirement to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave at a rate of 67 percent of the individual’s average weekly wage (once again capped at 67 percent of the statewide average weekly wage).

Eligible employees will be able to take paid leave to:

  • Bond with a new child (including an adopted or foster child) within the first 12 months after the birth, adoption, or placement;
  • Provide physical or psychological care for the serious health condition of the employee’s child, spouse, domestic partner, parent (including step-parent or legal guardian), parent-in-law, sibling, grandchild, or grandparent; or
  • Address certain exigent needs when a spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent of the employee is called to active military service.

Paid leave time may be taken intermittently in increments of one full day or one fifth of the weekly benefit. Employers may require paid leave under the law to run concurrently with any unpaid leave to which an employee is eligible under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”).

The law further provides job protection guarantees for all employees taking leave and requires the continuation of health care benefits during the leave period. The law also prohibits retaliation against an employee for exercising his or her rights under the new program.

In establishing this program, New York joins New Jersey, California, and Rhode Island on the list of states requiring paid family leave for eligible employees (Washington passed a measure establishing paid family leave in 2007 but has not yet put the program into effect). However, New York’s benefits will exceed those available to employees in these other states—New Jersey and California currently provide for 6 weeks of partial paid leave, and Rhode Island currently provides for 4 weeks of partial paid leave.  The District of Columbia, Connecticut and Massachusetts legislatures have also considered proposed paid family leave bills in recent months.

We will be following up with additional details on this new law as more guidance is made available for employers.