What Associations Need to Know About Paid Family Leave
Different U.S. states have different statutes for paid or unpaid family leave. Understanding the requirements of each jurisdiction where you have employees and educating managers about these requirements can help associations stay ahead on this important issue.
There’s been a recent rise in the number of U.S. states that have or will soon have statewide paid family and medical leave programs in place.
As of September 2023, eight states and Washington, DC, have paid leave benefits available, according to New America. Meanwhile, Colorado will start offering paid leave in January 2024, and four additional states enacted paid family and medical leave programs that will begin paying benefits in 2026.
As more states make these offerings available and with the rise of remote work, associations may find themselves with employees working in different states with varying paid or unpaid leave requirements.
Typical categories of paid leave may cover an employee’s medical absence or disability; absences for pregnancy, childbirth, or bonding with a new baby; caring for a family member with a serious health condition; absences for civic duties, such as serving on a jury, voting, or certain military or state or national guard service leaves; or absences because the employee is a victim of or needs to provide support to someone victimized by domestic violence or stalking.
“There’s no substitute for checking the paid and unpaid leave requirements in each jurisdiction in which your association has employees,” said Julia Judish, special counsel at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLP.
She shared how determining a baseline of benefits that is fair and competitive, providing transparent information to staff, and educating managers about requirements can help associations stay above the curve on this issue and retain talent.
Determine Baseline for Paid Family Leave
Associations should ensure that they understand what is required from each jurisdiction where they have employees and decide on a baseline of benefits.
For example, in DC, the paid family leave structure is done through a payroll tax on DC-based employers. It’s paid for by the employer and the employee applies for benefits for qualifying absences directly from the government. In New York, employees also apply to the government for benefits, but the employer can take deductions from the employee to fund those benefits.
“If your association has employees working in states with different laws, you need to decide whether you’re going to vary your policy offerings depending on the location of the employee,” Judish said.
According to Judish, if an association has employees who work in DC and in other states, that association may decide to offer more generous paid leave benefits to employees outside of DC because DC-based employees have access to government paid benefits.
According to Judish, paid leave entitlements often overlap and run concurrently with rights to unpaid leave under federal or state Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) laws, with rights to disability accommodations, or with other statutory rights (e.g., jury leave, military leave) or association plan benefits (e.g., short-term or long-term disability benefits).
“Associations should provide employees required notices of their rights and track those leave entitlements,” she said.
In states without paid leave statutes, associations have considerable leeway in defining what voluntary benefits to offer employees. Both for morale and to protect against discrimination claims, however, it is important that associations offer and administer those paid leave benefits in a fair and consistent way.
“Associations should also provide clear and transparent information to employees about their paid leave rights, what kinds of absences qualify for paid leave, and what notice or documentation requirements the associations have,” Judish said.
Judish recommends that associations educate managers about leave policies, especially about legally protected leave benefits.
“It can be effective to have in-person or virtual meetings with live participation with managers where HR provides an overview of the benefits and an overview of the issues managers should be aware of, as well as the managers’ obligations,” she said.
These meetings are a good opportunity for managers to ask questions or raise concerns. According to Judish, educating managers on leave policies helps ensure they report qualifying absences to HR so that the absences can be tracked against the employee’s entitlement and that they don’t hold qualifying absences against employees.
“If you don’t provide employees with protected time off, paid or unpaid, you’re going to wind up terminating employees you want to keep because of personal issues that will arise in their lives,” she said.