Paid Family Leave May Be Just Around the Corner

Although the Connecticut General Assembly was not particularly active in employment legislation– perhaps because of the protracted budget crisis– our neighboring State of New York adopted a major new employment entitlement this year: paid family leave.

Commencing on January 1, 2018, most employees in New York State will be eligible to receive weekly benefit payments when they take time off work for family leave if they meet certain eligibility requirements (for employees working 20 or more hours per week, they must have worked for the employer for at least 26 consecutive weeks prior to the leave; for employees working fewer than 20 hours per week, they must have worked for the employer for at least 175 days prior to the leave).  Two points to note are that this benefit is funded by employees rather than their employers, and that the payments apply only to leave taken to care for family members or leave taken in connection with a family member’s qualifying military service, not for the employee’s own serious health condition (but also note that unlike Connecticut, New York State has a disability insurance law, analogous to workers compensation, that provides payments for employees who are unable to work because of non-work related disabilities).

Paid family leave in New York (referred to as “PFL”) may be used to provide care for a family member, including domestic partners, grandparents and grandchildren, because of the family member’s serious health condition; to bond with a child during the first 12 months after birth, adoption, or foster placement; or to attend to obligations arising because a spouse, domestic partner, child or parent has been called to active duty in the armed forces.  As with the Family and Medical Leave Act, PFL requires 30 days’ notice for foreseeable leave, or otherwise as much notice as is practicable.

The length of PFL and the benefit amount will be phased in over time.  As of January 1, 2018, eligible employees can receive 50% of their average weekly wage, capped at a maximum amount determined by the state, for up to 8 weeks of leave.  The maximum in 2018 will be $652.96, which is 50% of the New York State Average Weekly Wage.  On January 1, 2019, the PFL allowance will increase to 10 weeks, with a benefit amount of 55% of average weekly wages up to the state maximum, rising to  60% as of January 1, 2020.  Effective January 1, 2021 and thereafter, PFL will be a maximum of 12 weeks with a benefit of 67% of average weekly wages up to the maximum (the maximums will be set each year based on the then-current State Average Weekly Wage).

To fund PFL, employees will be required to contribute a weekly amount by payroll deduction.  The deduction for 2018 is 0.126% of an employee’s weekly wage, but the maximum weekly contribution is only $1.65.  Most employers will administer PFL through their disability insurance carriers.  PFL is a benefit for New York workers, so out-of-state employers with employees working in New York State for more than 30 days must obtain PFL coverage, and employees who work in New York will be covered even if they reside in Connecticut.

Covered employers should be making arrangements to obtain PFL insurance, posting the required notice and updating employee handbooks, instituting the payroll deduction, and generally becoming familiar with the administration of this new benefit. And Connecticut employers should watch out, because versions of PFL laws have been previously introduced in the Connecticut legislature, and are likely to reappear.