Beginning next year, New York will become the fourth state in America to guarantee paid family leave for private sector employees.  On January 1, 2018, the New York State Paid Family Leave Program (the “Program”) will take effect, providing eligible New York workers with coverage during time away from work.

The Program will be phased in over a four year period, beginning with 8 weeks of coverage at 50% of an employee’s salary in 2018 and rising to 10 weeks of coverage at 55% of salary in 2019, 10 weeks of coverage at 60% of salary in 2020, and maxing out with 12 weeks of leave at 67% of the employee’s salary in 2021.  Benefits are capped, however, if an employee’s pay is greater than the State’s average weekly wage which, as of 2016, is $1,305.92.

Three categories of employees are eligible for the program: (1) New parents following the birth or adoption of a child; (2) Employees caring for a sick family member; and (3) Employees with a family member called to active military duty.  An employee must fall into one of these three categories and must also have been employed full time for 26 weeks, or part time for 175 days, by a private employer to be eligible.

Under the maternity/paternity portion of the Program, paid leave only begins after birth and is not available prior to the birth of the child.  Leave must be taken during the first 12 months following the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child.  An employee in New York may also take paid leave to care for a seriously ill relative which includes spouses, domestic partners, children, parents, in-laws, grandparents, and grandchildren.   A serious health condition under the Program is defined as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical/mental condition that involves inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or health care facility or continuing treatment or supervision by a health care provider.  An employee in New York can also take time under the Program when a spouse, child, domestic partner, or parent of the employee is on active duty in the military, or has been notified of an impending order of active duty.

Paid leave cannot be used for an employee’s own disability or military event and must be used to care for an eligible family member.  The Program will be fully funded by employees, with payroll deductions beginning as early as July 1, 2017.  Under the Program, an employer may not discriminate against employees for taking paid family leave and employees are guaranteed to be able to return to their job at the conclusion of their absence.

Private Sector Employers in New York should familiarize themselves with the Program and their attendant obligations.  Please visit the blog often for more information regarding when employee payroll deductions will begin under the Program.