With the recent passage of paid family leave legislation in the state’s Assembly, which would provide all workers with three months of job-protected leave, advocates across the state are hoping this will be the year New York joins other states including New Jersey, California and Rhode Island in enacting a paid family leave law.
The legislation, passed by the Assembly last week for the seventh time, would give all state workers up to 12 weeks of benefits, between 50 and 75 percent of their current salary, to care for a newborn or adopted child or to care for a seriously ill family member.
Workers on such leave would also have their jobs protected.
The program, as currently structured, would be funded entirely through employee payroll deductions, as it is in neighboring New Jersey. Proponents of the legislation have long argued it is needed so families don’t have to make the choice of caring for a family member or sacrificing much-needed income. Current Federal Family and Medical Act (FMLA) leave in the state is unpaid and many employees who work for small businesses can’t access it all and still others can’t afford to take unpaid family leave.
“I am very pleased that the State Assembly has once again taken the initiative to approve a paid family leave program that would enable New York’s working men and women to better balance their needs on the home front with their equally pressing responsibilities on the work front,” said State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., who is sponsoring the legislation in the Senate.
To become law, the bill must be passed in the Senate and then signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo. Despite the fact that a Senate vote on the legislation has yet to be scheduled, mainly owing to opposition from business groups, Addabbo remains optimistic that momentum in the state for a paid family leave law is moving in the right direction. Key to that momentum, said Addabbo , includes the fact that a version of the paid family leave bill is currently in Governor Cuomo's executive budget.
“I think we all know that it is no longer a question of if New York will enact a paid family leave program,” Addabbo said. “I am optimistic it will be 2016.” Samantha DiGennaro, CEO of NYC PR firm DiGennaro Communications, supports the legislation.
“As a business owner, I see the impact this could have on our bottom line, but I think the value for New York workers everywhere far outweighs the costs,” DiGennaro said. Nancy Rankin, Vice President for Policy Research and Advocacy at the Community Service Society of New York says that paid family leave is urgently needed. “We need paid family leave because the financial security of our working families and their health is at stake,” Rankin said, noting that workplace policies and laws have not kept up with changes in society, such as women comprising nearly half of the U.S. workforce and an increasingly aging population.
However, opposition to paid family leave persists in the business community. The Business Council of New York, a statewide association of private sector employers, opposes enactment of paid family leave legislation because it would increase costs for businesses and result in the state unnecessarily interfering with the employee/employer relationship.
But, labor and employment attorney Thomas Wassel believes attitudes toward paid family leave are changing for the better, despite pockets of opposition. “It is likely that these types of state laws will become more prevalent over time,” he said. “Whether Congress can agree on a nationwide policy, in light of the partisan gridlock which exists, remains to be seen.”