Alex Berke is an associate at Berke-Weiss Law PLLC, an employment law firm which represents employers and employees. She spearheads the firm's Pregnancy Project, providing advice to pregnant women and their families about their workplace and health insurance rights during pregnancy.

Did you know that on January 1st, 2018, New York will become the fifth State in the US to offer Paid Family Leave? So long as you’ve been in your job full time for 26 weeks or part time for 175 days, you’ll be entitled by State law to take 8 weeks of paid leave to bond with your new little bundle during the first twelve months after birth, adoption or fostering. In addition, your job will be protected, in the sense that you can expect to return to the same or a similar position when you come back unless there is a legitimate change in the workplace which eliminates your position. This new policy is a major win for parents and caregivers across New York State. Here are five of the most important details you should know.   

1.     Paid Family Leave is not paid by your employer and is not your full salary.

Paid Family Leave does not entitle you to receive your full salary. During the leave period (you get 8 weeks of leave in 2018, which will ramp up to 10 in 2019-2020 and 12 in 2021), you will be paid through an insurance policy that your employer has to obtain. The amount will be determined annually by the New York State Department of Labor as a percentage of the average weekly wage in NY. In 2018, employees will receive $648 a week. Or, if that’s more than your regular wage, you’ll receive 50% of your weekly wage instead.

2.     Freelancers can choose to buy into this program.

Freelancers can purchase their own Paid Family Leave insurance policy from an eligible insurer. That means you can get financial coverage for time spent caring for your little one in your first year, even if you work for yourself.

3.     People who gave birth in 2017 can still take Paid Family Leave in 2018 to take care of their child.

Paid Family Leave allows parents to take leave to bond with their child within the first year of birth, adoption, or fostering a child. Practically speaking, employers may not expect you to take leave to bond with your child in 2018 if you’ve already taken leave in 2017, but it is your right under the law to do so if you’re still within the first year of birth, adoption or fostering.

4.     Paid Family Leave can be taken intermittently, meaning you do not need to take it all at once.

The law is meant to be very protective for employees who need to take paid leave. This includes allowing employees to tell their employer whether they intend to take the leave all at once or intermittently. Intermittent leave could mean taking off every Friday for the equivalent of 8 weeks, or 40 Fridays. Practically, because this is a new benefit that employers may not be accustomed to, it is a good idea to have a conversation with your employer about your intentions, and how your work will be accomplished while taking leave.

5.     Paid Family Leave is not available to care for yourself.

Paid Family Leave is intended to support employees who need to take time to care for someone else, but not for self-care. Taking leave for your own illness, including during pregnancy, is not covered by this law. For those employees who are not eligible for federal Family Medical Leave Act leave because they work somewhere with fewer than 50 employees, there are a lot of other laws which protect your ability to take time off for your own medical care, including: New York Paid Sick Leave, anti-discrimination laws, and your employer’s short-term disability policy.

In summary, New York Paid Family Leave is an exciting development for New Yorkers. We anticipate that employers and employees will have many questions over the next few months as this law goes into effect, and we look forward to helping you navigate this new law. Check out the Pregnancy Project for more guidance as developments continue to unfold.