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Families seek paid bonding time with newborns at home

Donna Dolan, chair of the NY Family Leave Insurance Coalition, says New Yorkers shouldn’t have to choose between their families’ health and financial security. The Family Leave Insurance bill would provide workers with up to 12 weeks time off with partial wages. Photo by Gazette file.
June 18, 2012
New Yorkers without family leave insurance met with legislators last week and shared experiences of losing their jobs and falling into debt because paid protected time off was not available.

The Family Leave Insurance bill (A.6289/S.7547) sponsored by Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, D-Queens, and Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Saratoga, would provide workers with up to 12 weeks time off with partial wages.

"New Yorkers shouldn't have to choose between their families' health and financial security," said Donna Dolan, chair of the NY Family Leave Insurance Coalition. "As we look to recover from tough economic times, this legislation would be a lifeline for our state."

If enacted, Family Leave Insurance will be financed by payroll deductions from employees through expansion of the Temporary Disability Insurance program. Proponents of the bill say the measure will not impact the state budget because it will be entirely paid for by employees.

The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, established during former President Bill Clinton's first term, requires all public agencies and private sector employers with 50 or more workers to guarantee 12 weeks of job protected unpaid leave. Before this mandate, family leave was up to the discretion of the employer, but families are still struggling when forced to take unpaid leave from work.

"As a result of all the hardships I suffered on unpaid maternity leave, I destroyed my credit rating, obliterated my savings and endured a level of stress, anxiety, depression and sorrow I could never imagine would have characterized my life after such a joyous event like giving birth," said Torry B., who filed for bankruptcy following unpaid maternity leave.

The benefit will be provided for New York state workers eligible under the existing Temporary Disability Insurance program including individuals who are disabled from injury, sickness or pregnancy. Workers will also be allowed to take paid leave to care for a sick family member or to "bond" with their child during the first 12 months after birth or first 12 months after the adoption or foster care placement with the employee, according the bill language.

Dolan said although she does not know of any specific legislators who oppose the measure, the bill is a "progressive work force" benefit that meets the same opposition as bills like the minimum wage raise.

Dolan also said she has heard many stories of people who moved to Canada because of its better insurance policy for paid leave. This bill, she said, would save turnover costs and increase employee loyalty.

"When workers need to take leave from their jobs to care for a new child or sick family member, there must be adequate financial supports available for them to do so," said Mario Cilento, president of the New York state AFL-CIO. "By creating a Family Leave Insurance program, New York will be protecting workers and their families, creating a level playing field for businesses and reducing social safety net costs for the public."

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