When you are expecting a child or are finally approved for adoption, or when a loved one comes down with a serious illness and needs to be taken care of, one of your first thoughts is “how will I get out of work?” Your child or relative needs your attention and dedication for weeks or months at a time, which means you need time off work. Yet you fear losing out on all of your income during that time. The answer is to look into state and local paid family leave.
The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
Federal law may give you the right to take time off for a child or medical issue without fear of losing your job. However, the FMLA does not guarantee any paid time off.
The FMLA applies to:
- Public employers, including local, state, and federal agencies;
- Public and private elementary and secondary schools; and
- Companies with at least 50 employees during 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year.
Within those employers, it applies to certain employees. You must work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles. You must have worked for your employer for at least 12 months, though these do not have to be consecutive months. Additionally, within the previous 12 months, you must have worked at least 1,250 hours. If you cannot meet these requirements, then your employer does not have to provide you with leave under the FMLA.
If the FMLA applies to your employer and you, then you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period, without losing your job, to:
- Seek treatment for a serious medical condition that makes you unable to work;
- Care for an immediate family member (spouse, parent, or child) who is ill;
- For the birth of a child; or
- For the placement of a foster or adopted child in your home.
There is also a specific FMLA rule for servicemembers and their families. If you are an eligible employee, you can take up to 26 work weeks of unpaid leave within a 12-month period to care for an ill or injured spouse, child, parent, or a next of kin who is servicemember.
State family paid leave
As of February 2019, California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, New York, Washington, and Massachusetts are the only states with paid family and medical leave, along with District of Columbia.
- California gives eligible workers up to 60 or 70 percent of their wages for up to six weeks to bond with a new child or care for a family member with a serious illness, or up to 52 weeks for their own disability.
- New Jersey enables workers to receive up to 66 percent of their salaries for up to six weeks to care for a new child, care for a family member with a serious injury, or engage in certain activities related to a family member or themselves being a victim of domestic or sexual violence. Eligible workers can take up to 26 weeks off for their own disability.
- Rhode Island enables employees to opt into its Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program. Through this program, workers can take up to four weeks off for a child or family member illness and receive a portion of their wages or take off up to 30 weeks for their own serious illness or injury. The average weekly benefit rate is 4.62 percent of an employee’s wages.
- New York allows workers to receive 50 percent of their wages for up to eight weeks to take care of a child or ill family member, though the percentage of wages paid, and the number of weeks off, are set to increase by 2021. Eligible employees can take up to 26 weeks off for their own disability.
- D.C. allows for up to eight weeks for parental leave, six weeks to take care of a family member who is ill, and two weeks for an employer to receive treatment and recover from their own serious health condition. Employees may receive 90 percent of their average weekly wages, though the calculation differs if the employee earns more than 150 percent of the D.C. minimum wage multiplied by 40.
- Washington allows eligible employees to take off up to 12 weeks of family leave and up to 12 weeks for an employee’s own serious illness or injury. Employees may receive 90 percent of their average weekly wages, though the calculation differs for employees paid more than 50 percent of the state’s average weekly wages.
- Massachusetts offers employees 80 percent of their average weekly wages for up to 12 weeks for family leave, 26 weeks for caring for certain servicemembers, and 20 weeks for an employee’s own serious health condition.
Each of these states has coverage limitations for employers and eligibility requirements for employees. You must look into your state’s specific laws to determine if you are eligible for this paid leave, and if so, the specific calculation for your wage benefits while you take care of yourself, a child, or an ill family member.
If you believe your employer is denying your right to paid family leave under federal or state law, call an employment lawyer right away.