Many New York workers need time off from their jobs to care for a seriously ill family member or a new child. In recognition of this, New York State will start requiring employers to provide paid family leave as of January 1, 2018. Leave benefits will be phased in over a four-year period, and any employer who fails to follow the new rules--or retaliates against an employee exercising his or her rights--may be legally liable for employment discrimination.
When is Paid Leave Available?
The New York Department of Labor finalized its paid family leave regulations in July. The law will provide paid leave to employees in three scenarios:
- The employee needs to provide physical care, emotional support, transportation, or other assistance to a family member with a “serious health condition.”
- The employee needs time to bond with a newly born, adopted, or fostered child.
- The employee needs time to assist their family because a spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent, has been called to active duty in the armed forces.
An employee is eligible for paid family leave after 26 weeks of employment if they regularly work at least 20 hours per week. But employees who work less than 20 hours a week can still receive benefits after 175 days worked. Benefits are financed through your employer's existing disability insurance, and the employee may be charged up to 0.126% of their pay as a contribution towards the program. Employers may start collecting these employee contributions right away.
How Much are Paid Leave Benefits?
As noted above, there will be a four-year transition period for the family leave program. In 2018, eligible employees will be entitled to up to eight weeks of leave at 50% of their average weekly wage, up to 50% of the New York State average weekly wage (NYSAWW). (For rough guidance, the NYSAWW was about $1,300 in 2016.) By 2021, employees will receive up to 12 weeks of paid leave at 67% of their average weekly wage, up to the then-applicable NYSAWW.
Employees must give their employer 30 days notice before taking paid leave when “the qualifying event is foreseeable.” This includes an “expected birth, placement or foster care” or “planned medical treatment” for a family member. When 30 days notice is not practical–say there is a sudden medical emergency in the family–you can still take paid leave provided you notify your employer “as soon as practicable.”
Once your leave ends, you have the right to return the “same or comparable” position you occupied before taking leave. Your employer must also continue any employee health insurance benefits during your leave. Under no circumstances can can employer discriminate against an employee for asserting his or her right to paid leave. In other words, you cannot be fired or demoted for taking leave. Nor can your employer threaten to use your immigration or citizenship status as grounds for rejecting leave.
As with most new laws, there will be an adjustment period for employers and employees alike with respect to paid family leave. But if you have reason to suspect your employer is not complying with the law, you should speak with a New York employment law attorney right away. Contact the Law Offices of Mahir S. Nisar today if you need help with any kind of employment discrimination or wage and hour matter.