New York’s Paid Family Leave Allows Either or Both Parents to Take Time to Care for Newborns

In many parts of the U.S., the availability of paid family leave to care for a newborn is entirely dependent on one’s employer. Ensuring that employers with family leave policies apply them fairly is often a matter of enforcing laws against discrimination on the basis of factors like pregnancy or gender. New York City discrimination attorneys do not have to go that far much of the time thanks to the state’s paid family leave law, which took effect in 2018. Even if an employee is not eligible for leave under the new state law, New York City’s prohibition on caregiver discrimination may offer protection against adverse employment actions. Both state and city law make no distinction based on gender—mothers and fathers alike can claim family leave and caregiver status. A recent settlement in a lawsuit against a New York City-based financial firm suggest that the country may soon be ready to follow in the city’s footsteps.

The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) defines a “caregiver” as someone who is responsible for supporting a minor child or certain other individuals. This obviously includes parents of children under the age of eighteen. The law prohibits employers from discriminating against employees and job applicants on the basis of caregiver status. It does not necessarily require that employers provide accommodations for employees with caregiver responsibilities, but it still provides workers with important protections.

The paid family leave law applies to both full-time and part-time workers once they have worked for a minimum period of time. They must start over with regard to minimum days or weeks worked when they start working for a new employer. Starting in 2019, the law allows eligible employees to take up to ten weeks of leave to bond with a new baby. An individual must take advantage of this program within twelve months of the child’s birth. It expressly applies to any new parent, regardless of gender. Both of a child’s parents may take paid family leave if they meet the eligibility criteria. Benefits are payable through employers’ disability insurance.

A review of data from the first five months of New York’s program, from January through May 2018, showed that fathers accounted for more than one-fourth of all paid family leave claims received by one insurer. While the program could allow for up to two-and-a-half months of leave, the insurer reported that a plurality of men filing claims took less than two weeks of leave in total. Nearly twenty percent of the men who filed claims, however, took at least six weeks of leave.

In May 2019, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) entered into an agreement with a New York financial firm to settle claims of gender discrimination in its paid family leave policy. The company was not bound by New York’s law at the locations where the claims arose, but it was bound by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requirement to provide unpaid leave for certain purposes. The company voluntarily provided paid family leave, but did so in a way, according to the EEOC, that discriminated against fathers by providing them with less paid time off. As part of the settlement, the company will pay $5 million in damages, and will revise its policies.

Phillips & Associates’ team of experienced and skilled employment lawyers advocates on behalf of New York City employees, former employees, and job seekers in claims under city, state, and federal law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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