Balancing work and family is imperative to a healthy lifestyle, but many working Hoosiers find it hard to do so because of unpaid time off and paid leave restrictions. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law passed in 1993, requires employers to allow their employees job-protected, but unpaid, leave for medical and family reasons. While this can be helpful for families who are attempting to balance their professional and medical responsibilities, the law has many rules that can prevent families from taking full advantage of the law. For example, an organization must have more than 50 employees to be qualified, so only 59 percent of employees in the United States are eligible to take FMLA leave.
Indiana Senate Democrats want to expand upon this legislation, beginning with a study of the potential paid family medical leave policies that would work for Hoosier families and employers. Three other states – California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island – currently have this kind of policy in place, and New York will become the fourth in January 2018. Indiana Senate Democrats want to make Indiana the fifth state to adopt this kind of program, which will help working families efficiently and thoroughly cope with life events such as births, personal illnesses or illnesses of family members.
The study of paid family medical leave in Indiana is being proposed in Senate Bill (SB) 253, authored by Senator Karen Tallian. If adopted, it would be conducted this summer and would be aimed at identifying potential benefits and costs of a voluntary paid family and medical leave program. The four states who have already implemented these kind of programs are doing so in a variety of ways. While Indiana’s plan would be customized to fit the needs of working Hoosiers and employers, it is useful to know how these programs are already at work in other states.
- California: In California, paid leave is available to all employees who have worked for an employers for at least 12 months. The California State Family and Medical Leave law established the California Paid Family Leave insurance program, which provides up to six weeks of paid leave to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent or registered domestic partner, or to tend to a newborn child. The person on leave is required to receive 55 percent of his or her weekly wage, with a minimum of $50 and a maximum of $1,067.
- New Jersey: In order to be eligible for New Jersey’s program, employees must have worked 20 calendar weeks, or have earned at least 1,000 times the state minimum wage of $8.38 during the year prior to leave. Once qualified, the program provides 2/3 of wages, up to $524 a week, for six weeks. It also stipulates that other types of available leave must be used before taking paid family leave.
- Rhode Island: In the state of Rhode Island, all private and public sector employers who opt into the program become eligible. The plan works by way of the Rhode Island Temporary Caregiver Insurance Program, which provides 4 weeks paid leave for the birth, adoption or fostering of a new child, or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. Additionally, up to 30 weeks of paid leave are available for a worker’s own disability. The minimum benefit an employee can receive is $72 per week, and the maximum is $752 per week, based on income.
- New York: Last year, the New York legislature passed their paid family and medical leave law, which will become effective on January 1, 2018. It requires all private employees who have worked for 26 or more consecutive weeks, full or part-time, for a covered employer to be eligible, while also giving public employers the choice of opting in. The program will work on a graduated scale, with maximum leave time over a year-long period and maximum amount benefit amounts increasing annually until 2022. When the law goes into place in January, it will state that the maximum paid leave a person can take is 8 weeks, and the maximum benefit amount is 50 percent of his or her weekly average wage.
All of these programs show how different variations of paid family and medical leave plans that can work based on the state’s needs. SB 253 will be considered for final approval by the Senate and will soon move to the House of Representatives for further consideration. Sen. Tallian and the rest of the Democratic caucus are hoping that SB 253 will continue to move through the legislative process, and that the study committee will be formed in order to research how paid family medical leave would work in Indiana. Hoosiers are known for their hard work, and legislation like this would make balancing their work and family obligations a little bit easier for working Hoosiers.