A new state law will provide Binghamton University’s employees of the Research Foundation for SUNY expanded family leave benefits.
In 2016, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed New York state’s first phased-in Paid Family Leave program into law. As of Jan. 1, 2018, the law has gone into effect, providing New Yorkers job-protected paid leave that can be used to bond with a new child or care for relatives with serious health conditions, among other circumstances.
The Research Foundation for SUNY, a private nonprofit educational corporation, supports nearly $1 billion in SUNY research activity annually. It also provides sponsored programs administration and commercialization support services to SUNY faculty who are conducting research. Since the Research Foundation is a private employer, it has already started providing the policy to their employees.
The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 was one of the first attempts to provide employees with leave coverage. The federal law guarantees employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave without risk of job loss. The Paid Family Leave program will provide job protection while also paying New York state employees during their leave.
But not all employers in New York state will provide paid family leave for their employees. While most private employers will, public employers may choose to offer or not offer paid family leave. At BU, state-paid employees may or may not be covered under the program if their public employers choose not to opt into the program. Employees might be covered if their unions collectively bargain for it.
The paid leave benefits in the program will be funded through small weekly payroll deductions, so it’s up to employees to cover costs, not employers. The state’s Department of Financial Services has set the payroll contribution rate for the Paid Family Leave program at 0.126 percent of the employee’s weekly wage, capping it at an annual maximum of $85.56.
According to Cuomo, this new legislation will not only improve the lives of workers in New York state, but it will also ensure workers are not forced to choose between their jobs and their families.
“Our strongest-in-the-nation Paid Family Leave policy will ensure that no one has to choose between losing a job and missing the birth of a child or being able to spend time with a loved one in their final days,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Losing your job due to childbirth is a real fear for many new mothers across the United States. Five percent of first-time mothers who worked during their pregnancy from 2006 to 2008 were let go from their jobs during pregnancy or within six months of childbirth, according to the social and economic policy-focused think tank Urban Institute. Additionally, 22 percent of these mothers quit their jobs, 42 percent took unpaid leave and 10 percent took disability leave.
According to Tom Popielarski, director of human resources and payroll at the Research Foundation, Paid Family Leave provides another option for employees who may not have had many options before.
“A lot of new hires who have only a few years of service with us haven’t built up those big sick leave banks, or vacation banks, in order to care for others. And outside of that you have a lot of employers in the state of New York that don’t have very generous benefit packages that [the Research Foundation] offers,” Popielarski said. “So [Paid Family Leave] is a very good thing for employees to care for their families.”
With the program, mothers and fathers will be able to take paid leave to bond with their child. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, fathers were only able to take unpaid leave to bond with their child, but under Paid Family Leave, New York state fathers will be able to take paid leave to bond with their child and to take care of their spouse.
Under the new law, employees are allowed eight weeks on leave and 50 percent of their average weekly wage or New York State’s average weekly wage. The amount of leave and benefits will gradually increase annually until 2021, when employees will be provided the full 12 weeks of leave and 67 percent of their average weekly wage.
Paid Family Leave isn’t only limited to regular employees. Popielarski said students employed by the Research Foundation now also have a paid leave benefit under this new law.