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Paid Family Leave: What Is It, and How Does It Apply to You?

Undoubtedly, you’ve heard by now about New York’s new Paid Family Leave Law.
Who does this new law apply to, and what does it do for you?

Paid Family Leave is for any employee who needs an extended period of time off due to one of the following life events:

  • The birth or adoption of a child
  • The care of an ailing family member
  • The deployment of a spouse for military duty

Paid Family Leave’s purpose is to grant employees the time they need to adjust to a major change in their lives. For example, a new father typically only received a couple of weeks for paternity leave to spend time with his child. Under Paid Family Leave, a father can now spend a couple of months to be with his wife and newborn child.

The law is being phased in over a four-year period. In the first year, employees are granted eight weeks of leave at 50 percent of the employee’s average weekly wage, capped at 50 percent of the state’s average weekly wage. For 2018, the maximum weekly amount an employee on Paid Family Leave time can receive is $652.96.

The Paid Family Leave phase-in continues as follows:

  • 2019: 10 weeks of leave at 55 percent of the employee’s average weekly wage, capped at 55 percent of the state’s average weekly wage
  • 2020: 10 weeks of leave at 60 percent of the employee’s average weekly wage, capped at 60 percent of the state’s average weekly wage
  • 2021: 12 weeks of leave at 67 percent of the employee’s average weekly wage, capped at 67 percent of the state’s average weekly wage

You should note that you don’t have to take all of your Paid Family Leave time at once. Employees are able to spread out their Paid Family Leave time over the course of a 52-week time period. For example, if you’re caring for a seriously ill close family member (i.e. spouse, child, parent/stepparent, etc.) for a week, you only have to take that time off and the rest will be available to you for another time.

Paid Family Leave is not the same as the federal-level Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was established 25 years ago. Employees who used FMLA to attend to a family medical emergency were not paid; they were only granted the right to return to employment and to have their health insurance coverage continue. Under New York’s Paid Family Leave, employees are paid, their benefits continue and they are guaranteed to return to their jobs. You should apply for Paid Family Leave first before requesting FMLA time.

When you request Paid Family Leave time, you must notify your employer at least 30 days before it is to start, if the event is foreseeable, such as a military deployment or an adoption. More than likely, however, you will need to notify your employer as soon as possible. There are specific forms for each life event covered under Paid Family Leave, so be sure to ask for the one that applies to your needs.

After you have filled out your Paid Family Leave form, you must make a copy for yourself and submit the original to your employer, who will fill their section out and return it to you within three business days. Then, you will send the completed form and any necessary supporting documentation (i.e. birth certificate, military duty papers) to the employer’s insurance carrier before or within the 30 days that you start Paid Family Leave. If your employer does not return the original form to you within three business days, you can also send the form to the insurer. The insurer must either pay or deny your request within 18 calendar days of receiving documentation.

Full-time employees are eligible for Paid Family Leave Employees who require time off for a major life event after six months of continuous employment by a company or a public agency/authority. Part-time employees are eligible after working 175 non-consecutive days. The law applies to all employees, regardless of your citizenship or immigration status.

Lastly, you must remember your rights for reemployment by your employer. If your employer does not allow you to return to your job or another position for the same amount of pay, or if your employer issues any other adverse action such as a pay reduction or a disciplinary procedure, you may file a complaint to the Workers’ Compensation Board. The Board has 45 calendar days to respond to your claim and schedule a hearing. You should also contact a labor and employment attorney to represent you in your claim.

Michael W. Macomber, Esq. is the Section Chair of Tully Rinckey PLLC’s New York State Employment Group. Mr. Macomber focuses his practice on federal and private sector employment law claims, including FMLA and New York labor law, among others.

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