Workers in New York now can take time off to care for a newborn child or sick parent and continue to receive a paycheck.
The state's paid family leave program launched Jan. 1. This year, employees may take up to eight weeks of paid leave and will receive 50 percent their average weekly wage up to 50 percent of the state's average weekly wage.
The program will be funded by employee payroll deductions. For 2018, the deduction will be 0.126 percent of weekly wages. For example, if your gross weekly pay is $1,000, $1.26 will be deducted from your paycheck.
Full-time employees will be eligible for paid family leave if they work at least 20 hours a week for 26 consecutive weeks. Part-time employees who work less than 20 hours a week are eligible for paid leave after 175 work days.
Most employees are required to participate in the paid family leave program unless they obtain a waiver. Workers can obtain a waiver if they don't expect to meet the eligibility guidelines.
Workers will be able to use paid leave to care for a newborn, adopted or fostered child, care for a family member with a serious illness or assist when a family member who serves in the military is deployed.
To take time off for these purposes, you must notify your employer at least 30 days before your leave begins. If it's an emergency situation, employees are asked to notify their employers as soon as possible.
New York is the fourth state to offer paid family leave. Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who proposed the 12-week program in 2016, touted the implementation of the benefit at rallies Sunday on Long Island and in New York City.
"When you look back, what are the moments that matter? When the child is born? People get married? Who's there for you when you're sick? Do you get quality time to spend when someone is passing and they need peace and they need relaxation? That's what life is really all about, and middle-class working families have been denied that," Cuomo said.
He added, "Paid family leave says eight weeks, it goes up to 12 weeks and you get paid for it. And that's what goes into effect tomorrow. And that's what you should feel good about."
The new program has its share of supporters and detractors. The New York Paid Leave Coalition, which supported the adoption of the benefit for workers, lauded the state for having the "nation's strongest, most progressive and most comprehensive paid family leave policy."
"Starting January 1, New Yorkers will no longer have to choose between bonding with a new child or caring for a seriously ill family member and being able to pay their bills," said Donna Dolan, executive director of the New York Paid Leave Coalition.
Dolan noted that the coalition's next step is to educate the public about the program. The state Workers' Compensation Board, which is administering the program, conducted outreach prior to the Jan. 1 launch. This outreach included a website, ny.gov/paidfamilyleave, which the board said has drawn more than 1.3 million unique visitors since its inception. A paid family leave helpline, (844) 337-6303, was launched and has received more than 27,000 calls, according to the board.
Social media has been part of the board's campaign. The content has reached more than 1.7 million on Facebook, Twitter and other platforms.
While the state aims to educate New Yorkers about the program, business groups have criticized the paid family leave benefit and complained about how it will impact employers, especially small businesses.
Frank Kerbein, director of the Business Council of New York State's Center for Human Resources, believes small businesses will face challenges when attempting to comply with the new law.
"We were told repeatedly that there's no additional cost to employers for this," he said. "However, the administrative burden of paid family leave is immense."
The burden, according to Kerbein, includes meeting the employee notification requirements and identifying employees who are eligible for paid leave. Many employers distributed letters to workers explaining the program ahead of the Jan. 1 launch.
Another challenge Kerbein highlighted is the ability for employees to take paid leave intermittently. As an example, he said a new father under the existing 8-week paid leave program could take every Friday off for 40 weeks or every Monday and Friday off for 20 weeks.
He also recognized the private employers that already offer some sort of paid leave benefit.
"We're not against giving our employees time off to care or bond with children or care for sick family members," he said. "It's the inflexibility and the administrative burden that it puts on employers that compounds that problem. Lots of members do great work providing time off. It's the one-size-fits-all hammer on this nail that's the problem."
Despite concerns from business groups, the paid leave program is moving forward. For the first year, employees may take up to eight weeks. That will expand to 10 weeks in 2019 and 2020 before increasing to 12 weeks in 2021.
Once it is fully phased in, employees who take paid leave will receive 67 percent of their average weekly wages up to 67 percent of the state's average weekly wage.
"Our strongest-in-the-nation paid family leave policy will ensure that no one has to choose between losing a job and missing the birth of a child or being able to spend time with a loved one in their final days," Cuomo said.