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Effective January 1, 2018, New York joins the progressive states of California, New Jersey and Rhode Island to require mandatory Paid Family Leave for all qualifying employees. This affects all business owners in New York State, not just those with 50+ employees.
If you’re an insurance broker already providing Disability Benefits Law (DBL) coverage or enhanced DBL, your clients may have questions about this new benefit. First, it’s important to understand that PFL is not the same as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA only secures an employee’s job and does not provide additional funds should an employee have to take a leave of absence due to childbirth, caring for a disabled child or caring for an older family member. A federal program, FMLA only applies to employers with 50+ employees.

Who Qualifies for PFL?

Unlike FMLA, PFL mandates up to 12 weeks of job-protected, paid leave for all New York employees, regardless of the size of the company, for any of the following reasons:

-bonding with and caring for a newborn, adopted, or foster care child during the first 12 months
– caring for a seriously ill family member
– addressing important needs related to a family member’s military service.

The Specifics of PFL

To qualify for PFL benefits, a full-time employee must have worked 26 or more consecutive weeks. Part-time employees must have worked 175 days. PFL benefits will be phased in over time to reach the maximum paid leave, never exceeding a percentage of the state’s average weekly wage (AWW), beginning January 1, 2018. Benefit amounts are as follows:

Beginning January 2018: 50 percent of the employee’s AWW for 8 weeks
Beginning January 2019: 55 percent of the employee’s AWW for 10 weeks
Beginning January 2020: 60 percent of the employee’s AWW for up to 10 weeks
Beginning January 2021 and on: 67 percent of the employee’s AWW up to 12 weeks

What Else Your Customers Need to Know About PFL

Employees are permitted – but not required – to use their accrued vacation time or PTO in addition to PFL benefits, but cannot claim DBL and PFL at the same time. PFL benefits begin on the first full day the employee requires paid family leave. When possible, the employee should give 30 days’ notice, but if this isn’t possible, such as in the event of a family emergency, or a premature birth, they should let the employer know as soon as possible. In either case, benefits can start on the first day off. The PFL benefit is funded by a nominal employee contribution; employers are not required to fund any portion of the PFL benefit. However, employers must invest in a policy that covers both DBL and PFL benefits under the same policy, but, as of right now, New York State Disability Benefits Law will not change under this new legislation. This could be the first step in legislation that would increase the statutory benefit in phases. That’s why it’s a great opportunity to evaluate your customers’ DBL coverage now to prepare for what may come.

Why It Matters to Insurance Brokers

As you re-write your customers’ DBL policies to cover PFL in preparation for January 2018 and beyond, this represents an opportunity to employ consultative selling techniques to increase your customers’ DBL policies with Enhanced DBL coverage.

Keep in mind: Employers are not required to fund PFL coverage, so no money comes out of their pockets as their employees’ benefit coverage improves. This is a great time to re-evaluate your customers’ DBL coverage. Are they doing enough for their loyal employees? What if you could increase the employees’ nominal contributions just a bit more, beyond PFL coverage, and provide an enhanced DBL policy that offers expanded benefits and more flexibility in how employees collect those benefits? Employers might even be willing to match employee contributions for a more robust enhanced DBL policy.

These are pre-tax benefits, and with the 2016 presidential election coming up, the future remains uncertain. Will taxes go up for the working middle class to fund programs the new president may support? Employees and employers alike will be looking for additional ways to reduce their tax liability.  Increasing insurance coverage for events that are likely to occur (and may even be planned), such as the birth of a child, a spouse’s military service, or the illness of an aging parent, provides a peace-of-mind that is hard for middle class, working Americans to find in today’s economic climate.

Why This Is Important for America

The new PFL requirements fill an important space today. These benefits affect every generation of worker, as “sandwich generation” or Generation X, and Baby Boomer employees face hardships caring for aging loved ones, and younger GenX and Millennial workers may plan to start families through childbirth or adoption.

Today’s insurance brokers are in a unique position to support a program that supports American families, while increasing their own commissions through consultative selling of PFL and enhanced DBL benefits in New York.