New York introduces Paid Family Leave legislation

How will the new bill affect Staten Island employees, business owners?

On Jan. 1, New York joined three other states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — in requiring employers to provide eight weeks of job-protected Paid Family Leave that can be used alongside the Family Medical Leave Act benefit. The legislation, introduced by Gov. Cuomo in 2016, is great news for employees and features plenty of layers, but the new law does require some compliance adjustments for employers.

“As this new benefit is introduced into the workplace, employers might face some challenges in terms of understanding the differences between FMLA and PFL,” noted Ellen McCann, assistant vice president and legal counsel for Unum, a Tennessee-based Fortune 500 insurance company and one of the nation’s leading employee benefits providers. “Employers need to understand the advantages and challenges of paid family leave so they can make strategic decisions about what’s best for their workforce.”

The newly passed program allows almost all private employees eight weeks of paid leave to care for loved ones with a serious health condition, to bond with a new child or to help support their family when someone is recently made active in military service. Funded by employee payroll contributions, PFL also ensures continuation of health insurance while out and job protection.

And while there are some blurred lines between new and older leave acts, according to McCann, the most distinct difference between this benefit and FMLA is family members covered under PFL are more broadly defined.

“Under FMLA, employees are allowed paid leave to care for a parent, spouse or child under the age of 18,” McCann said. “If the child is over 18, there needs to be documented proof of a serious health condition or inability to care for themselves. PFL, on the other hand, covers the same relatives covered by FMLA while also covering domestic partners, children of any age, parent-in-laws, grandparents and grandchildren.”

Also worth noting is the availability of PFL to employees who’ve had children in 2017.

“As you may know, employees could not file for PFL until Jan. 1,” McCann said. “But if they had a child in 2017 and used all of their FMLA to bond, they can now file for PFL because it is brand new and didn’t exist as an entitlement during their time off. Those employees can now take another leave as long as they finish that leave before their child turns 1. The leave is also allowed to be intermittent — they can take one day at a time until the eight weeks have expired.”

The benefits of PFL will also become more generous with time: Wage replacement is currently at 50 percent for the eight weeks but will increase to 67 percent for 12 weeks by 2021. And experts say in other states this law has been a boon for productivity.

“The good news is that a 2014 report from the President’s Council of Economic Advisers indicated that 90 percent of employers affected by California’s paid family leave initiative reported either positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, turnover and morale,” McCann added. “The key to a successful introduction is developing a strategy for managing leave benefits — stay current with legislation, evaluate your organization’s administrative burden and assess the impact of leave benefits on your company.”

Katherine Fitzgerald, a workforce development analyst with the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce, penned a newsletter last month on what employers need to know about PFL.

“Private employers with one or more employees are required to obtain Paid Family Leave insurance,” she noted. “Contact your broker or insurer for information about available policies and options for paying your premium.”

It is also the employer’s responsibility to inform employees about Paid Family Leave, Fitzgerald wrote.

“Update appropriate materials, such as employee handbooks, to include Paid Family Leave information and post an employee notice provided from your insurance carrier.”

And prepare for employee payroll contributions.

“Update your payroll processes to collect the employee contributions that pay for this insurance,” Fitzgerald concluded. “It is strongly recommended you notify employees before withholding any contributions.”

For more information about New York State Paid Family Leave, visit www.ny.gov/paidfamilyleave.