As Families Seek More Work / Life Balance, States Consider Leave Policies

June 15, 2022 | Beth Giambrone

A mother sits on the couch, comforting her sick childPaid family and medical leave policies are important tools for reducing health disparities, improving parent and child health, preventing COVID-19 transmission, and supporting other public health improvements. A number of studies show the benefits of paid family leave programs, including increased access to postpartum care, an increase in the initiation and duration of breastfeeding, a reduction in household food insecurity, and an increase in leave usage in disadvantaged families.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) gives eligible employees 12 weeks leave in a 12-month period for a serious health condition affecting the employee, an employee adding a new child to their family, or that employee providing care to an ill family member. However, FMLA is unpaid, leaving states to decide if they will offer such leave to their constituents. Below is a summary of paid family leave legislation since 2021.

Statewide Paid Family Leave

States offering paid family leave is an emerging policy. California was the first state to enact legislation in 2002. By 2025, 11 states (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington) and Washington D.C. will make paid family leave available to all employees in their jurisdiction—the duration and type of leave varies by state.

In April 2022, the Maryland legislature overrode the Governor’s veto of SB 275, thereby establishing a statewide paid family leave program effective January 2023. The program provides covered individuals a maximum of 12 weeks of paid leave for (1) the birth, adoption, or placement of a foster child during the year after birth, (2) addressing an individual serious health condition, (3) caring for a seriously ill family member, (4) caring for a next-of-kin service member, or (5) a qualifying exigency due to a family member’s deployment.

Similarly, Delaware enacted SB 1-2 in May 2022, creating a statewide paid family and medical leave insurance program. Under Delaware’s program, covered employees are eligible for a maximum of 12 weeks paid family and medical leave for (1) the birth, adoption, or placement of a foster child, (2) to address a serious health condition, (3) to care for a parent, child, or spouse with a serious health condition, or (4) for any other qualifying exigency as defined under FMLA.

Virginia enacted SB 1219 in 2021, which directed the state Corporation Commission's Bureau of Insurance to review and make policy recommendations as part of a proposed statewide paid family and medical leave program, and to report those recommendations by November 30, 2021.

Over the past two years several states also considered paid family leave legislation. Hawaii’s Senate passed SB 3316, which would have provided eight weeks of paid family leave for the birth, adoption, or placement of a foster child, as well as caring for a family member with a serious health condition, however, the Hawaii House of Representatives did not vote on the bill before the end of session and SB 3316 failed. The Minnesota House of Representatives passed HF 41, which would have allowed employees to earn a maximum of 48 hours of paid time off for an employee’s mental and physical health, as well as caregiving, each year. The Senate did not consider the bill before the legislative session ended in May 2022.

Modifications to Current Paid Family Leave Policies

In 2021, New York passed multiple bills expanding definitions within their paid family leave program, A 6098 and its companion bill S 2928 added “siblings” to the definition of “family member” under the program, which included biological, adopted, half-siblings, and step-siblings. The legislature is currently considering S 9424, which would include the use of paid family leave following a stillbirth.

Currently, the Rhode Island legislature is considering SB 2243, which would increase the amount of paid family leave provided from 13 to 24 weeks.

Paid Family Leave and COVID-19

In 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that—before the COVID-19 pandemic—52% of workers in the hotel and food services industries and 66% in the construction industry had access to sick, paid family leave, or personal leave, as opposed to 82% in the finance industry. With paid medical or family leave, workers are more likely to access and receive preventative care, experience shorter hospital stays, and reduce the risk of disease transmission. Studies show that sick leave policies that were modified at the beginning of the pandemic helped reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

California enacted SB 95, which reestablished COVID-19 supplemental paid leave of up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for full-time covered employees who are unable to work or telework due to certain reasons related to COVID-19, including that the employee has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine or to care for a family member under quarantine or isolation. The law also prohibits employers from requiring that employees use other paid or unpaid leave, paid time off, or vacation time before that employee uses COVID-19 supplemental paid leave, except if the employer provides another supplemental benefit for leave related to COVID-19.

Oregon enacted HB 2474 in 2021, which expanded their family leave statutes to include closure of a childcare provider or school due to a public health emergency as a qualifying purpose to take leave. In addition, it reduces the time to become eligible to take leave to 30 days if there is a public health emergency.

Washington state enacted HB 1073 in 2021, which temporarily expanded coverage under the state’s Paid Family and Medical Leave (PMFL) program. This law allowed employees that did not meet eligibility thresholds during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic—but met the threshold in 2019 and the first quarter of 2020—to receive benefits as long as the employee had not voluntarily left their job or been let go for misconduct. The Washington law also provides pandemic leave assistance grants for employers with fewer than 150 employees.

Because paid family leave policies are currently decided by states, it is a dynamic and evolving process. ASTHO will continue to monitor and report on this important issue.

Special thanks to Sanaa Akbarali, MPH, ASTHO’s senior director of maternal and infant health, for contributing to this blog.