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Rhode Island joins California, New Jersey on paid family leave

California has led the way when it comes to mandating that employers provide paid leave for their workers for their own or a family member’s illness. California was the first state in the country, in 2004, to require paid family leave under law. New Jersey followed five years later. Now, as of Jan. 1, Rhode Island has become the third state with such a program.

More states seem headed toward offering this benefit for their workers. Some states are considering bills to provide this leave. Several other states have task forces studying the feasibility of such a program. Another state’s legislature passed paid family leave legislation in 2007, but budgetary issues have prevented the law from taking effect.

Rhode Island’s new law expands the benefits provided by its Temporary Disability Insurance program, which only applied to “work-related illnesses or injuries.” Under the new program, employees pay into the program through payroll deductions. As “The Washington Post” points out, California, New Jersey and Rhode Island are the only three states that offer paid leave funded by employee contributions rather than by employers or taxpayer funds.

Although the federal Family and Medical Leave Act mandates employers to allow workers 12 weeks of leave, that leave can be unpaid. Almost half of those eligible for it report that they simply cannot afford to take time off from work without pay. Further, because of the caveats in the law, only about 60 percent of employees are eligible for it. Two members of Congress, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Representative Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, are proposing federal legislation that would require employers to provide 12 weeks of paid time off to all employees for illness (their own or a family member’s) or to take care of a new child.

While California mandates better family leave benefits than most states, employers do not always follow the law. Employees have a right to take the paid time off allowed by the state and to the benefits of the federal FMLA without fearing that they will not have a job to return to. Employment law professionals may be able to help employees who are denied those rights by employers. If businesses are not held accountable for non-compliance with the law, no matter how inconvenient it may be to them, many will have no incentive to abide by it.

Source: ThinkProgress.org, “Workers In A Third State Can Now Take Paid Family Leave” Bryce Covert, Jan. 02, 2014

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