Using Employee Leave to Care for a Loved One

At some point in our lives, most of us will be a caregiver for someone we love. It might be a spouse who is recovering from surgery or a child who has a chronic illness. Many times it is helping a senior loved one safely age in place at home. When your loved one’s health requires your caregiving support full-time, it might become necessary to take a leave of absence from your job.

This is why understanding the rights afforded you under the Family Medical Leave Act is important.

What is the Family Medical Leave Act?

Signed into law in 1993, the Family Medical Leave Act allows employees who meet the criteria to maintain their job and health benefits while they are caring for an immediate family member. The leave can last up to 12 weeks.

An immediate family member is considered to be a spouse, child, or parent who has been diagnosed with a serious health condition.

But the law has several provisions that apply before the employee is deemed eligible:

  • The employee needs to have worked for the same employer for at least 1,250 hours over the previous 12 months.
  • The company must have 50 or more employees within 75 miles.

A few states have expanded these unpaid benefits to cover a wider range of employees or to secure the employee’s position and health benefits for a longer period of time. And some employers even offer paid leave for family caregivers. But in states where it isn’t required, many employers don’t.

States Offering Family Medical Leave

A handful of U.S. states require employers to provide paid family leave (PFL) through mandatory insurance paid for by employee-funded payroll taxes.  Those states currently include:

  • California
  • Rhode Island
  • New Jersey

Benefits are calculated as a percentage of an employee’s average weekly wage.

California currently offers the most generous PFL benefits. In 2017, employers in the Golden State will be required to pay 55 percent of an employee’s wages up to a weekly maximum of $1,173 for six weeks.

Paid Family Leave Coming to Washington, D.C.  and New York

In January 2018, New York will join these states in expanding paid family leave laws. Benefits for employees in New York will exceed even those provided to residents in California.

New York employees will be able to receive 50 percent of their average weekly wage for a period of time up to eight weeks. Benefits will continue to increase every year through 2021 until the state-mandated benefits reach 67 percent of an employee’s annual weekly wage. Employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave.

Washington, D.C. recently signed a bill giving employees six weeks of benefits to care for an ill family member. It will be financed using a payroll tax on employers.
Lobby for Better Legislation in Washington

Unfortunately employees in the Pacific Northwest have few options for paid family leave. They are limited to only those employers who opt to offer paid leave as a benefit for their own employees. Some tech companies such as Facebook are expanding paid leave for new parents. To date, those benefits are only for parental leave.

While the Washington Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act passed in 2007 with the intention of providing paid medical leave, it was delayed indefinitely in subsequent legislation. With many baby boomers delaying retirement for financial reasons, those who are also caregivers find themselves struggling to manage it all.

For now, if paid leave is important to you, your best course of action is to write to your state legislators. Ask them to support better PFL laws. You can find Washington legislature contact information online.

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