GetHealthHelp

A Patient Advocate's View

Paid Family Leave as of Summer 2008

Beth fell from a ladder while changing a light bulb in her home. She now requires three half hour physical therapy treatments a week for a pinched nerve. The therapist who accepts her health insurance only has office hours from 9-5. Beth tries to make her appointments during lunch hour, but sometimes it can be over two hours before she’s back at her desk.

Ann is a single working mom who lives with her two children. Last year her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Ann has to get up at 4 am to get everyone ready and dropped off at their various day cares and schools. She still arrives late to her job a few times a month if her Mom has a doctor’s appointment or if she needs to wait for a sitter.

Patty is up for partner in a law firm. It’s taken her almost twenty years to get here and she worries that she will be too old to have a child if she waits much longer. No woman has stayed in the firm after childbirth, let alone be offered a promotion.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted in 1993 to help workers to take time off from their jobs without the fear of losing their seniority or being dismissed. Under FMLA, eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks unpaid time off, in continuous spans of time or through intermittent or reduced schedule leave.  Workers may take time from work because of a serious health condition or to care for a spouse, child or parent who has a serious health condition or to care for a newborn or newly adopted or foster child. 

In January 2008, Congress enacted the first significant changes to the law since its inception in 1993. Employees caring for members of the military—those who become ill or injured in the line of duty—are now eligible to take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave.

 

Meanwhile, the FMLA is so confusing that a whole new industry has sprung up surrounding compliance and administration. Doctors have been known to charge up to $25 to fill out all the required paperwork. Besides the difficulty in understanding and enforcing the law, FMLA’s effectiveness is constrained by its limited coverage and because millions of workers cannot afford to take leave without pay.

While some Federal Legislators continue to propose bills that would eliminate FMLA coverage for short-term illness, legislation that will provide Federal Employees with four weeks of paid parental leave passed the U.S. House of Representatives on June 19, 2008. It is now in the US Senate but President Bush promises to veto the bill.

Proposals such as The Family Leave Insurance Act of 2007 (S. 1681) which would expand FMLA to include paid leave on a federal level have gone nowhere. Barack Obama proposes that as President he would expand the FMLA by providing help to the States for expanding the reasons for leave to include children’s academic activities or to address domestic violence and sexual assault. John McCain opposes any expansion of FMLA.

On May 2, 2008, New Jersey joined California and Washington to become the third state to enact a law allowing employees to take time off with limited pay for medical care or to care for a sick immediate relative. The New Jersey Time to Care Coalition led the advocacy efforts for S786/A873, which will extend the State’s existing temporary disability insurance system to provide workers with family leave benefits. Under the program, employees may receive two-thirds of their salary, up to $524 a week and will provide 6 weeks of benefits. The legislation is designed to run concurrently with the federal FMLA while it clarifies some areas that have caused problems in administration, such as definitions of who is eligible and reasons for taking leave. It also imposes fines and criminal penalties for employees who fraudulently claim paid leave benefits.

The law will go into effect in January 2009, and workers will be able to take paid leaves as of July 2009. The day that Governor Corzine signed the Paid Family Leave Act, the New Jersey Ledger’s blog was filled with posts by employees who objected to any new payroll deductions and employers who feared the burden of further overhead costs.  Temporary Disability Insurance is currently jointly funded by employers and employees.  The program would continue to be jointly funded, but the modest premium increase would be borne by covered employees alone. Employers fear that lost productivity from absent employees and greater administrative responsibilities will increase their costs.

An overview of the rights of employees under the New Jersey Family Leave Act can be found at http://state.nj.us/treasurypensions/epbam/additional/fmla-overview.htm.

The U.S. Department of Labor web site has a chart which explains the differences between the Federal vs. the New Jersey Family and Medical Leave laws at http://dol.gov/esA/programs/whd/state/fmla/nj.htm.

Now, more states are exploring ways to clarify and expand coverage. 11 states, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have enacted statutes that affect the employees and employer’s rights and responsibilities. A list of bills introduced in 2008 can be found at http://www.paidfamilyleave.org/otherstates.html

In New York State, although the Assembly passed the Working Families Time to Care Act (A9245) in 2007, the Senate did not act until 2008 when the entire 30-member Democratic Conference and four Republicans, signed a letter addressed to Senator Thomas Morahan (R-New City) in support of S.8428. June 2008 marks the second consecutive year Senate Democrats have called for the passage of Paid Family Leave legislation proposed by Morahan. The New York State Paid Family Leave proposal is similar to the New Jersey and California laws.  

You can learn more about paid family leave in New York State and what you can do to help at the New York State Paid Family Leave Coalition web site, http://www.timetocareny.org/index.html

July 7, 2008 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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