Families in New York had a big reason to celebrate the new year: Effective on January 1, New York state law mandates partially paid leave—starting now with eight weeks and ramping up to 12 by 2021. That makes it the strongest parental leave policy in the county. The benefits also extend to those aiding relatives with serious medical needs or people with a partner on active military duty abroad.
Although government-enforced paid leave is still far from the norm nationally, the new policy in the country’s fourth most populous state is a positive sign for all of us.
“New York enacted the strongest paid family leave plan in the nation to 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,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement when announcing the regulations in 2017. “This program is about restoring basic dignity for hardworking men and women and I am proud that New York is continuing to lead the country forward in the march toward economic justice.”
Per the new policy, people can get paid coverage if they are employed full-time for 26 weeks or part-time for 175 days by a covered employer. (Residents can go to the state’s website to see if they qualify.) During this first year, people seeking leave can qualify for eight weeks away from the office during a one-year period with a pay cap of 50% of the state average wage.
By 2021, when the program is fully instituted, those benefits will increase to 12 weeks of leave with a pay cap of 67% of the state average wage.
New York’s paid family leave program isn’t perfect—but it is a huge improvement on the national Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which limits coverage to workers at private organizations with 50 or more employees (within 75 miles of the worksite) or employees at government agencies. Then, to qualify, the employee must have been with the company for at least 12 months.
And the real kicker is that FMLA only protects employees from getting fired during their leave—but doesn’t mandate any kind of pay.
The consequences of inadequate parental leave policies aren’t just financial; they are also emotional and physical. Most Americans know this and want to better paternity and maternity leave policies.
It’s good to see those hopes being realized in states like New York, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island (which offer lesser degrees of parental support than NY).
Now, let’s continue the trend nationally.