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The Practical Employer

Is New York the Beginning of the End for America’s Terrible Family Leave Laws?

It’s time to get ahead of the curve on the issue of paid sick leave. Given how far we have to catch up, it presents an amazing recruitment and retention opportunity for the American employer.

It is freakin’ hard to be a working parent in America. It is even more difficult when both mom and dad work.

It’s not just child care, but also doctors’ appointments, kids’ sick days, summer vacations, winter and spring breaks, Labor Days, Memorial Days, and all the other “Days” (and don’t get me started on “teacher in-service days”).

Beginning Jan. 1, New York is implementing the start of solution for any employees that work in that state.

On that date, New York’s Paid Family Leave law — the nation’s most comprehensive to date — takes effect.

It provides job-protected and employee-funded paid leave (eight weeks in 2018, scaling up to 12 weeks by 2021) to care for a spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, parent-in-law, or grandparent with a serious health condition; to care for a newborn child during the first 12 months after the child’s birth or after the first 12 months after placement of the child for adoption or foster care; and for when a spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent is called to active military duty.

In other words, it takes the FMLA, adds “domestic partners,” and pays for the job-protected time away from work via insurance proceeds funded by mandatory employee payroll deductions.

If your business employs anyone in New York, this law, for obvious reasons, is a really big deal.

Yet, New York’s move on paid family leave should matter to all employers even if you never have and never will employ anyone in that state. This law matters to all because it moves the needle on this issue.

To compete in the job market against those employers that offer paid leave, other companies will have to begin voluntarily offering paid sick leave as a fringe benefit. Thus, over time, paid sick leave will spread to most, if not all, employers nationwide, whether by government fiat or voluntary adoption.

Those of you who’ve been reading for a while know that I’m not a fan of government mandates. Yet, it is embarrassing that America lags so far behind the rest of the world on employee paid time off.

This law illustrates what happens when the private sector delays making necessary changes. Because our nation’s businesses are so out of touch on the issue of paid leave, governments are compelled to step in.

Bottom line? It’s time to get ahead of the curve on the issue of paid sick leave. Given how far we have to catch up, it presents an amazing recruitment and retention opportunity for the American employer.

Or, look at it this way. Now is the time to board the paid sick leave train. It’s leaving the station one way or the other. The only question is who is going to be the conductor — employers or the government.

Jon Hyman is a partner at Meyers, Roman, Friedberg & Lewis in Cleveland. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Hyman’s blog at Workforce.com/PracticalEmployer.