The United States stands out among developed countries for its lack of guaranteed paid family and medical leave. According to Pew Research Center, in 2019 the U.S. was alone among 41 countries in not guaranteeing some form of paid parental leave.
While there are no guaranteed paid family and medical leave policies at the federal level, several state-level policies on paid family and medical leave have recently gone into effect or are scheduled to go into effect in the near future. States including New York, New Jersey, Washington, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts have all implemented or are scheduled to implement versions of paid family and medical leave.
Paid family and medical leave policies can significantly improve employees’ lives by replacing a portion of their lost income during the time they take off from work. Whether you need leave from work to care for a newborn or adopted child, to take care of a family member, or to deal with your own health issues, paid family and medical leave can help to ensure that you don’t lose your entire income while doing so.
What is paid family and medical leave?
While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides Americans with up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave, there is no federal legislation that guarantees paid leave. This makes the United States unique among developed countries.
As a result, many Americans take less leave than they would like to deal with family or medical issues simply because they cannot afford it. The leave that they do take often eats into their savings and increases financial instability.
Workers who give birth to or adopt children aren’t guaranteed paid parental leave in order to take care of and bond with their child. Only about 35% of workers have access to some form of paid parental leave, according to KFF. Higher-wage workers are more likely to be eligible for paid parental leave, while lower-wage workers are less likely to have paid leave as an option.
In addition to the lack of paid parental leave, Americans are also unlikely to be compensated for the time they take off from work to care for a sick family member or to manage their own health issues. According to a recent study from the Pew Research Center, 23% of Americans have taken time off from work to care for a family member, and an additional 25% say that they are likely to do so in the future. When this type of leave is partially compensated, it’s often through the use of sick leave and personal leave.
Paid family and medical leave have several potential benefits for Americans. Paid leave would allow workers to take time off of work to care for new children, take care of loved ones, and address their own health issues without worrying about how to make ends meet. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, paid parental leave can significantly improve maternal physical and mental health. Instituting paid family and medical leave could also help Americans to balance career and family responsibilities, improve financial stability, and reduce the gender pay gap.
Types of paid family and medical leave
Paid family and medical leave can be broken down into two categories: paid family leave for new parents and caregivers, and paid medical leave for employees experiencing illness or health issues. Paid medical leave is sometimes also referred to as temporary disability insurance or short-term disability insurance.
Who qualifies for paid family and medical leave?
The FMLA currently provides employees with unpaid, job-protected leave under certain conditions, including:
- Giving birth to and caring for a newborn child.
- Adopting or fostering a child.
- Caring for an immediate family member who is seriously ill.
- Medical leave for a serious health condition.
Paid family and medical leave in specific states usually follow similar guidelines when it comes to employee eligibility.
States that offer paid family and medical leave
Several states offer some version of paid family and medical leave, although the details vary from state to state.
California provides paid family leave for employees under certain conditions. Eligible workers can receive somewhere between 60% and 70% of wages earned for up to eight weeks within any twelve-month period.
California also provides disability insurance for workers who are unable to work due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy.
Beginning in 2024, Colorado employees will be eligible for paid family and medical leave.
Connecticut’s Paid Family and Medical Leave Act (PFMLA) provides workers access to paid leave for events covered under the federal FMLA. Payment of benefits to eligible employees is scheduled to begin in 2022. The benefit amount depends on employees’ average weekly wage.
D.C. Paid Family Leave provides employees with paid leave for eight weeks to bond with a new child, six weeks to care for a sick family member, and two weeks for individual health issues. Private sector employees pay a 0.62% tax to fund this benefit. For a worker making $40,000 per year, that’s just $62 per quarter.
Starting in January 2021, Maine law requires employers with over 10 employees to provide up to 40 hours of earned paid leave. This leave can be used for any reason, including caring for family members or dealing with medical issues.
Beginning in 2021, Massachusetts offers paid family and medical leave for up to 26 weeks. The paid leave is funded by a tax of no more than 0.75% of eligible employee wages, paid partly by the employer and partly by the employee.
Self-employed individuals can also choose to opt into the program. The maximum benefit amount for qualifying employees is $850 per week.
New Jersey offers family leave insurance for up to twelve weeks for eligible employees. This benefit is funded by payroll deductions, and workers contribute 0.16% of their wage cap, with a maximum yearly deduction of $221.12. New Jersey also provides temporary disability insurance for workers.
New York provides qualifying employees with paid family leave to bond with a child or care for a family member. Workers can receive 67% of their weekly wage up to the wage cap, and take leave up to twelve weeks.
Oregon provides paid family and medical leave for up to twelve weeks for employees to take care of themselves or a family member, and up to two additional weeks for pregnancy and childbirth.
The leave is funded through a payroll contribution of no more than 1%, which is shared between employers and employees. Eligible employees can receive up to 100% of their wages in the form of a weekly benefit.
Rhode Island’s Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program provides up to four weeks of partial wage replacement benefits for workers to care for children and family members. Rhode Island also provides Temporary Disability Insurance for employees who are temporarily disabled or ill.
Washington provides eligible employees with up to 18 weeks of combined paid family and medical leave. Qualifying employees can receive up to 90% of their weekly pay, with a maximum of $1,206 per week in 2021.
Paid leave at the federal level
While the federal government has yet to pass any legislation that would guarantee paid family and medical leave, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act, introduced by representative Rose DeLauro, would provide workers with up to twelve weeks of partial income. Workers would be able to earn 66% of their monthly wages up to a capped amount.
The federal government also recently passed the Federal Employee Paid Leave Act (FEPLA), which covers up to twelve weeks of paid parental leave for federal employees.
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) requires certain employers to provide two weeks of paid sick leave for employees who are quarantined or experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, and two weeks for employees who need to care for quarantined individuals or children.
Some employees are also eligible for up to an additional 10 weeks of paid leave if they need to care for children whose schools have closed or are otherwise unavailable due to COVID-19. These benefits were extended until March 31st by President Biden.
While the United States does not currently guarantee paid family and medical leave at the federal level, plenty of states have stepped up to ensure that their citizens can access paid leave to take care of new children, sick family members, and medical issues. Paid family and medical leave are important for workers to safely begin families, fulfill caregiving responsibilities, and take care of their own health.