NYS Labor Commissioner addresses paid family leave in Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- New York State Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon has been traveling across the state making sure private employers are prepared for the start of the new Paid Family Leave program, quickly approaching in January.

For some, the program is long overdue.

“A lot of companies aren’t covered by FMLA if they’re smaller, under 50 employees,” said Cindy Marlow, Women of Steel WNY Regional Council Chair. “This gives the small companies, the employees something to work with.”

Others voiced concerns at a question and answer session with Commissioner Reardon.

The program goes into effect Jan. 1.

It will give employees of private companies eight weeks of paid time off in 2018, 10 weeks off in 2019 and 2020 and 12 weeks off in 2021. It can be used for maternity or paternity leave, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, or helping loved ones when a military family member is deployed.

There is an exception, employees cannot take off to care for a sibling.

“If you are power of attorney or guardian for one of your siblings, you’re not included in this plan, that was kind of disappointing,” said Robert Mahoney, union representative for Local 200United.

He said he was pleased to learn he will be able to negotiate for even more benefits in collective bargaining agreements.

Marlow agreed on both points. She hopes caring for a sibling can be added to the program.

“It’s something to look forward to working on,” said Marlow.

To apply for paid family leave, employees have to fill out a form from their employer and submit it to their company’s insurance provider, with supporting documentation. The insurance company will approve or deny it within 18 days. If approved, checks will come from the insurance company, not the employer.

Business owners expressed frustration it’s only recommended employees give 30 days notice they’re taking leave.

Some companies will also have the expense of hiring temporary workers.

We asked Commissioner Reardon if there is help for small businesses.

“The assistance is helping them understand how the process works,” said Commissioner Reardon. “You’ll actually see less turnover overall because you’ll have happier employees. Overall, they’ll feel more secure so it’s actually better for the employer.”

Employees pay for the program, contributing a maximum of $1.65 per weekly paycheck. Employees will be able to get up to $652 dollars a week while on leave in 2018.

“It is absolutely sustainable,” said Commissioner Reardon. “This is done as an insurance rider on people’s disability insurance so the insurance companies and Tax and Finance at the state level have been involved and they’ve crunched all the numbers and they’ve figured out it’s absolutely sustainable and will be there when people need it.”

Another concern brought up at the meeting was about construction workers. Some, who are employed full time, will be ineligible because they have multiple employers.

This law requires full time employees to work 26 consecutive weeks for a company before they take paid leave. Part time employees have to work 175 days.

If you have questions, you can call a state hotline (844) 337-6303.

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