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Employees: know and protect your leave rights under federal, state law

Family and medical leave is an important issue nowadays, particularly with Americans starting families later in life and an increasing aging population. While some workers are lucky enough to have an employer who provides paid family and medical leave, not everybody is. This is because federal law doesn’t require employers to provide paid leave, at least not yet.

Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, employers are required to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave. Under the law, leave may be taken to address serious health conditions of a spouse, child or parent, or for the employee’s owner serious health issues. 

Employees also have the right, under federal law, to take leave for the birth or adoption of a new child, and military families have certain leave entitlements. Federal law does not require employers to pay employees for their leave time, but only requires them to protect the employee’s job.

New York law is progressive on the issue of family and medical leave. Last year, Governor Cuomo signed into law a measure that provides not only job-protected leave, but also paid leave for employees to care for newborns and loved ones with serious health conditions, or when a family member is called to active military service.

The law goes into effect next year, and will be fully implemented in phases. In the first year, it provides a maximum of benefit of eight weeks, then ten weeks in the second and third years, which increases to a maximum of 12 weeks thereafter. All employers will be required to meet the requirements in their own disabilities policies. Additional protections may apply at the local level—New York City has as law in place which entitles employees to paid sick leave.   

Of course, it is important for employees to not only understand their leave rights under both state and federal law, but also to work with an experienced attorney to protect their rights when their employer does not abide by its obligations under the law. We’ll say more about this in a future post.


U.S. Department of Labor, The Employee’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act, Accessed April 18, 2017.

www.ny.gov, Programs: New York State Paid Family Leave, Accessed April 18, 2017. 

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