By Chris Caya, originally published in WBFO 88.7 on Dec 26, 2017 .

Paid Family Leave starts with the new year

Under a new state policy taking effect January 1, workers across New York will be eligible for Paid Family Leave.

Starting Monday, New Yorkers will have job-protected paid time off to care for a new child, a loved one with a serious health condition, or to help a close relative called to active duty.

“It’s going to be the most generous paid family leave in the country,” said Jim Grasso, a Labor and Employment attorney with Phillips Lytle LLP, in Buffalo. He says, everyone’s going to be covered.

“If you work 20 hours or more you’ll be covered after working 26 weeks. And if you work fewer than 20 hours a week you’ll be covered after working 175 days. And if you’ve already worked that amount of time as of January 1 you’ll be covered at the start of the year,” Grasso said.

But it will be phased in – starting with eight weeks in 2018 and increasing over four years to 12 weeks of paid leave.

“It’s going to start off offering fifty percent of the employees pay. And when it’s fully implemented, by 2021, it’s going to cover 67 percent of their pay,” Grasso said.

Unless companies volunteer to pick up the cost, he says, premiums will be deducted from employee’s paychecks. The rates are set by the state based on New York’s current average weekly wage – which means the most it will cost in the first year is $1.65 per week. Grasso says, the law includes penalties for employers who don’t comply.

“It covers all employers regardless of size. So even if you only have one employee you’re going to be covered. And the law requires that if you have a handbook you have to have a policy in your handbook. And if you don’t have a handbook you’re going to have to distribute a written notice to all of your employees,” Grasso said.

Caroline Organ is the Human Resources Director at BS&P CPA’s and Consultants. The Buffalo based company has about 45-employees. Organ says it’s taken a lot of time setting up the new program.

“The most difficult part is just the administrative aspect of it. If you don’t have things in place to track the number of days that you’re employees are working the number of weeks that they’re working. If you didn’t have something like that already set up cause you’re a smaller company, I think that could be difficult to really get all that set in place. With us it was more modifying some of the procedures that we already had in place,” Organ said.

When employees are out under Paid Family Leave there will be a cost for businesses.

“Whether it be hiring a temporary employee. Whether it be giving more overtime to employees that you have. And employers do have to continue to cover the cost of the health insurance for the employee while they’re out. And that’s something that some employers haven’t necessarily done in the past as well depending on the size. So that’s additional cost that they didn’t have before that now they do have to incur,” Organ said.

Looking at the program from an employees perspective, Organ says, she definitely sees the benefits.

“You’ve got a lot more families that have two working parents. You don’t have as many that have that stay at home parent to really take care of their children or their aging parents. So I do just think that this is, regardless of whether employers embrace it or aren’t so happy about it, it’s something that we’re going to have take and implement and move forward with,” Organ said.

The law was signed in 2016 by Governor Andrew Cuomo. He says Paid Family Leave will help improve the lives workers across the state and help move New York forward.