When New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine signs his state’s paid family leave legislation into law tomorrow, it will be the latest in a series of victories that are beginning to make our nation’s policies more family-friendly. 2008 has brought the first-ever expansion of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, a paid sick days law in the District of Columbia, and family-friendly advances from Maine to Washington State.
“New Jersey will take a huge step forward when Governor Corzine signs the paid family leave bill tomorrow, making New Jersey the third state to adopt paid family leave,” said National Partnership for Women & Families President Debra L. Ness. “This is a critically important victory for working families in the state, and one that will be good for businesses as well, helping them retain the skilled workers they have hired and trained.”
New Jersey’s law expands the state’s temporary disability insurance program to give workers up to six weeks of family leave benefits to care for a sick family member or a newborn or newly adopted child. It provides temporary disability insurance benefits at two-thirds of wage replacement up to a maximum of $524 per week this year. It will be financed by a small employee payroll deduction. California’s paid leave law took effect in 2004; it also provides six weeks of partial pay to workers who take family leave, and is funded through the state’s disability insurance program. Washington State passed a paid family leave law last May.
In other developments this year:
- Congress passed and President Bush signed the first-ever expansion of the Family and Medical Leave Act, giving up to six months of unpaid leave to families of wounded military personnel.
- Colorado lawmakers passed the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act, which requires employers to provide reasonable unpaid breaks for employees who are nursing or need to express breast milk for nursing children.
- The District of Columbia became the second municipality, after San Francisco, to guarantee workers paid time away from work to treat an illness or care for a sick child. The D.C. law is the first to guarantee paid “safe” days, so workers dealing with domestic violence can take time off for violence-related court appearances or to access other services.
- Maine lawmakers expanded the state’s family medical leave law to include workers who need to take time off to care for sick siblings. The law now provides up to ten weeks of job-protected unpaid leave to cover workers who need to care for a sick child, spouse, parent, domestic partner or sibling.
- Maryland lawmakers adopted a law to require employers to let workers use sick leave to care for a parent, child or spouse.
- New Mexico lawmakers significantly increased funding for the state’s At-Home Infant Care program, which provides subsidies to help new parents stay home to care for their infants.
- Washington lawmakers enacted a measure that allows state employees to donate annual leave or personal holidays to fellow employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
“While we are encouraged by this progress, the state-by-state approach leaves too many workers and families behind,” Ness added. “We need Congress to pass the paid leave bill championed by Christopher Dodd (C-CT) and Ted Stevens (R-AK) in the Senate, and George Miller (D-CA), Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Pete Stark (D-CA) and Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) in the House. We also need Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, so that workers with the flu, strep throat and other less serious illnesses can take a few days off to recover, or to care for a sick child. And we need the Bush Administration to reconsider the damaging regulations it has proposed that would weaken the Family and Medical Leave Act.”
“With our economy struggling,” Ness concluded, “it is more important than ever that lawmakers put in place family-friendly policies, so working families can avoid financial disaster when illness strikes or new babies come.”
A recent Harvard/McGill study of 173 nations found that 169 guarantee paid leave to women in connection with childbirth, and 66 ensure that fathers can take paid paternity leave. The United States is the only industrialized country without paid family leave, and without a guarantee of paid leave for mothers along with just Liberia, Papua New Guinea, and Swaziland.