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New York State Passes Paid Family Leave and Minimum Wage Laws

In April 2016, Governor Cuomo signed into law new legislation that will eventually raise the minimum wage in New York City and many other counties in New York State to $15 per hour, and provide most employees in New York State with a right to paid family leave, beginning in 2018.

With this new paid family leave law, New York joins California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island on the list of states offering some form of paid family leave.  In New York, leave will be allowed for an employee to care for an infant, a family member with a serious health condition, or to relieve family pressures due to active military service. Employees become eligible after 26 consecutive weeks of work, and all employers regardless of size are covered.  Starting on January 1, 2018, employees will be eligible to take 8 weeks leave per year, and the amount of time will ultimately increase to 12 weeks per year by January 1, 2021.

During their leave, employees will be paid up to 50% of their weekly pay, capped at 50% of New York State’s Average Weekly Wage (“NYSAWW”).  In 2015, the NYSAWW was $1,296.48. By 2021, this amount will increase to two-thirds of an employee’s weekly pay, capped at two-thirds of the NYSAWW, and the program will be funded by payroll deductions from employee paychecks. Meanwhile, employers are also required to restore employees who take paid leave to their prior positions or a position with comparable employment benefits, pay and other terms and conditions of employment.

This law signals a large improvement in current benefits available to employees in New York. Under federal law, the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) provides 12 weeks of job-protected medical leave, including maternity leave, but does not mandate any pay during the employee’s absence from work and does not cover employers with fewer than fifty employees.

Employers are encouraged to review and, where necessary, revise their family leave and pay policies with an experienced employment attorney to achieve compliance with these new laws. The first increase in minimum wage under the new law will take effect on December 31, 2016.