By Christine Graf
The state’s paid family leave program (PFL) is having a significant impact on some businesses, say those in the Human Resources field.
New York’s PFL has been in effect since 2018, but won’t be completely phased in until 2021. It provides paid time off for individuals to bond with a newly born, adopted or fostered child, care for a family member with a serious illness, or assist a loved one when a family member is deployed abroad on active military service.
As of Jan. 1, New Yorkers may be eligible to take up to 10 weeks of family leave and receive 55 percent of their salary. By 2021, 12 weeks of leave will be offered at 67 percent pay. Weekly pay caps are calculated based on state averages.
Gail Hamel, the owner of Lake George-based Hamel Resources, said the law impacts some businesses more than others. She is a human resources consultant who works with both large and small businesses.
“The biggest thing with the paid family leave act is certainly scheduling,” she said. “Especially when you have an employer with a limited number of employees.”
She said many of her smaller clients were exempt from the FMLA because they had less than 50 employees. That is not the case with New York’s PFL. Although public employers can opt out of PFL, there are few exceptions for private employers regardless of size.
“If you have 50 employees, you have half a chance of being able to cover a leave,” said Hamel. “With FMLA, they didn’t have to worry about it if they didn’t have 50 employees.”
She hasn’t received much feedback from her clients about the impact PFL is having on their businesses. She noted they have been busy complying with the state’s new sexual harassment law. This law requires employers to implement sexual harassment prevention policies and conduct anti-harassment training for employees.
Local business owner Linda Moran recently had several employees submit PFL paperwork. She has more than 200 employees working in her six Maple Leaf Childcare Centers. Because she is required to maintain state-mandated staff to child ratios, positions must be filled when someone goes out on PFL or FMLA.
“Just filling their positions for that temporary time is really hard,” said Moran. “We need to find someone who is good enough to cover for that spot. We need to hire a temporary person or fill that position from within from a lower position and hope it will work out. It’s not like we work in an office where you can do without one secretary that week and give more work to somebody else. It doesn’t work that way with us.”“I have one very large client in central New York with 1,200 employees where on any given day 75 to 80 employees have either New York State Paid Family Leave or the federally mandated medical leave,” said Jim Marco, owner of Saratoga Human Resources Specialist. “That’s 6-8 percent of the workforce.”
Marco’s client operates health care facilities including nursing homes. These facilities require 24 hour a day seven days a week staffing.
“Being able to maintain staffing is difficult especially in healthcare where you already have a nursing shortage,” he said. “It becomes logistically very, very difficult. There’s lot of per diem staff, and a lot—a lot—of overtime. You get people working difficult jobs and now they are working overtime so they are getting burnt out. You hear a lot of complaints about burnout. And you can’t replace the people who are on leave.”
Under both the New York PFL and the federally mandated 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees are guaranteed job protection while on leave. Employers are not allowed to hire permanent replacements to fill temporarily vacant positions.
New York’s program is funded through payroll taxes. Therefore, it is not considered a direct cost to the employer. But Marco described the indirect costs to employers as significant.
“It’s a horrible cost,” he said. “The employer doesn’t pay the premium, but the employer pays for all of the overtime while these folks are out. It’s costing them significantly. Plus, there’s an impact on employee morale when people are being overworked and getting burnt out. It impacts turnover. Managers are spending more and more time figuring out their scheduling. It’s very, very difficult.”
“I’m not suggesting these are bad programs,” he said. “But an employer should be able to reach a point where they are able to say, ‘We can’t afford to do more than X number of employees given our size or X number of employees given our logistical concerns.’ Every employer has unique circumstances.”
Marco is concerned about the impact that existing and pending state legislation will have on businesses. Three laws are currently pending. The first would require employers to offer up to 12 weeks of bereavement leave. The second would require them to give their workforce 14-day advance notice of their schedules. The third would mandate nurse-to-patient ratios.