Rochester, NY (WorkersCompensation.com) - Family leave is attorney Luke Wright’s priority.
Since the esquire with New York-based Harter Secrest & Emery LLP heard Gov. Andrew Cuomo announce the Empire state would be rolling out a more bountiful paid family leave, he has been focusing on what will take effect in January 2018.
“They did this by not creating a new law, rather they amended the workers’ compensation law here in New York,” Wright said of the now amended disability benefits rule portion to fall under workers’ compensation law. Edited to include more than 26 weeks of paid family leave with the maximum benefit of $175 a week, New York will now offer more for families. The paid leave will assist families who are expecting a child, caring for a critically-ill loved one, or are off work due to military obligations.
“If you are going to miss work due to those reasons, we are going to pay you with 8 weeks of leave paid up to 50 percent of the state’s average weekly wage,” Wright said. “That is more than (the) $650 a week cap,” said Wright, adding: “Not only is a disability benefit like workers’ compensation, but its protected leave like the Federal Family Leave Act.”
Brian Keegan, spokesperson for the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board, replied to a WorkersCompensation.com request for comment via a press release from Gov. Cuomo’s office. Along with raising the minimum wage, the governor said paid family leave was an immediate priority in March 2016.
“In this new employee-employer relationship, it’s not just about the salary, it’s about the respect that the worker gets, it’s about the respect that the employee gets,” Gov. Cuomo said, adding generations ago employee-employer relationships were stronger.
The Governor said in “this economy too many employees are treated like a commodity” and rather than the invaluable asset they are."
“Life is not work, life is family, life is relationships, life is love. Life is nurturing. That is life, that is where we live and you should be able to live a decent life and work should not mean that you miss the precious moments at home, you miss the precious moments with a loved one, there is no more precious of a moment than when you have a child,” he said, adding his own experience with his wife and child.
“The father too has a right to be there and spend that time together,” he said.
With so much unknown since 2016, Wright has followed the paid family leave matter closely, even authoring a Lexology report on the matter. “It has been on the books for two years now,” he said, adding Feb. 22 as when the Worker’s Compensation Board issued an initial set of proposed rules that was followed by a 45-day public comment period to only be proposed again and followed by a 30-day public review period.
“Hopefully there will be final rules by end of June (until) January when the law will be in effect,” he said, adding the Empire State will be one of the first to move forward with a more fruitful paid family leave. Wright said with the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board Family Leave regulations, it will mandate that most private employers carry coverage that they must offer themselves or buy from a carrier.
“It will be a new experience for us in New York since not a lot of states do this, he said. “Everyone is trying to wrap their heads around what it is going to be.”
Wright has been working with Joanne Schneider with Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., global brokerage for commercial insurance, employee benefits and risk management solutions. The vice president of human resource consulting, out of the Rochester, NY, said the 175-client attended webinar last week she conducted with Wright was a chance to help employers face the unknown.
“The paid family leave is an addendum to the New York State Disability Law. New York is one of six states that has a mandated short-term disability insurance for people that work in the state,” she said, adding Arthur & Gallagher clients specifically look to her department. “They look to us to help them understand it and what the impact of it is going to be on them.”
Giving the employers perspective in the webinar, Schneider clarified a statement made by the governor. “Gov. Cuomo said it is not going to cost the employers more, but it is. It is going to cost the insurance carriers more because they have to hire additional staff to process all these forms they did not have to do before,” she said, adding, "Those increased costs will probably result in increased premiums passed on to the employer."
With longer leave, staffing will become a problem as well, she added. Wright said while most will take the position that the amended family leave is a good thing to protect people from losing their job due to a family medical emergency or new moms and dads. “It’s an area you see in presidential campaigns, talking points that America may lag behind as far as other countries,” he said.
Speaking of presidents, Trump recently proposed paid leave for six weeks to both newly adoptive parents and biological parents. If passed, like Wright said, America will, as most other developed countries, offer paid family leave. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave are allotted after the birth of a child for companies with at a minimum of 50 employees.
“This law says we are going to make employers have this coverage and we are going to pay for it through the payroll contributions from employees. We are going to try and not charge employers and make employees pay,” Wright explained, adding proposed rates should be released later this week.
While it is seemingly positive as Wright noted, some will say it is not. “The other side of that is that employers are recognizing the administrative hand tying and burdens that this is going to place on them,” he said. According to Wright, a few other cons could be employees attempting to take advantage of the new plan and that “this law is going to interact with other laws.” Like Wright, Schneider said there are a lot of unknowns.
“Working out all the kinks is going to be tough as it goes forward,” Wright said. “There are a lot of brokers and employee service providers who are dealing with a lot of the same questions.”
He said he hasn’t seen a level of interest from employers in at least a decade over an issue as much as now. “It’s a big one,” he said.
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