New York employers should prepare to make changes to their family leave policies. During an August 29, 2018, debate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo indicated that he may soon sign into law a bill passed by the State Legislature on June 20, 2018, that adds bereavement leave to the list of qualified reasons to take job-protected, paid time off under New York’s Paid Family Leave Act.
Currently, under the Act, eligible workers can take paid family leave under three circumstances:
- To provide care for a family member with a serious health condition
- To bond with their newly born, fostered, or adopted child, and
- To attend to a qualifying exigency arising out of a family member’s military service
The Act went into effect on January 1, 2018. Under the Act, private sector workers can take up to eight weeks of paid family leave and receive 50 percent of their average weekly wage, capped at 50 percent of the New York State average weekly wage. The length of leave and the percentage of pay will increase gradually until 2021, when employees will be permitted to take up to 12 weeks of paid family leave and receive 67 percent of their average weekly wage, capped at 67 percent of the New York State average weekly wage.
If signed by Gov. Cuomo, the amendment to the Paid Family Leave Act would grant further protections to workers by adding another qualified reason for leave: “leave taken for the purposes of bereavement due to the death of a family member,” so long as workers provide bereavement notice “as soon as practicable.”
While the majority of private sector employers in New York currently allow employees to use personal time off to grieve, such time off is generally limited to a few days and is not always paid. This amendment would create a significant expansion, allowing workers to take up to 10 weeks of leave in 2020 and up to 12 weeks of leave in 2021 to grieve following the death of a family member.
Proponents of the amendment view it as a necessary protection for workers to allow them time to grieve following the loss of a family member without fear of repercussions from their employers. They point to concerns that failure to take time to grieve can impact an individual’s health and ability to perform his or her job functions. On the other hand, some businesses are worried about the costs of such a program, noting that the costs of the original Paid Family Leave Act are still unknown, but appear to be beyond what lawmakers anticipated. In addition, business owners are concerned that providing employees up to three months of leave could negatively impact their operations.
New York employers should keep a close eye on the status of this bill. Gov. Cuomo has until December 31, 2018, to sign the legislation, with the law going into effect on January 1, 2020. This will allow employers at least one year to adjust their bereavement policies accordingly.
Those employers without operations in the Big Apple should also take note. The Empire State has been among those locations at the vanguard of providing additional employee rights and protections, and we very well may see other states add to what has become a “crazy quilt” of paid leave legislation.