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New York State Takes the Lead in Introducing Paid Prenatal Leave for Medical Appointments of Pregnant Employees
Wednesday, June 12, 2024

On April 20, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed the state's Budget for the fiscal year 2025. This budget includes a new provision for paid prenatal personal leave, which is an amendment to Section 196-b of the New York Labor Law, also known as the New York State Paid Sick Leave Law.

Read the New York state 2025 fiscal year budget here.

Starting from January 1, 2025, employers will be obligated to offer 20 hours of paid prenatal personal leave within a 52-week calendar period to pregnant employees for healthcare services related to their pregnancy. The obligation to offer this leave is borne by the employers, and the statute does not require employees to contribute to the funding of this leave. This measure expands the existing paid family leave law in the state and makes New York the first state in the United States to provide paid leave specifically for pregnant employees to attend medical appointments. This amendment was integrated into and established through the state budget process, instead of being passed as an independent bill by the legislature. This facilitated a quicker implementation of the amendment as part of the wider budget legislation.

This new amendment covers appointments such as physical examinations, medical procedures, monitoring and testing, and consultations with a healthcare provider concerning the pregnancy. Employees can utilize the 20 hours of paid prenatal personal leave in hourly increments. According to the amendment, employers are required to compensate employees for this leave at either their regular pay rate or the applicable minimum wage, whichever is higher. If an employee depletes their paid prenatal leave, they can still use their accumulated paid sick leave for prenatal care. There is no waiting period for the use or accrual of paid prenatal leave time. But the law does not mandate the payout of unused paid prenatal leave when an employee leaves the job.

This initiative marks a significant deviation from the standard practices in the rest of the country, where specific provisions for prenatal care are usually not included in paid sick leave laws. In the majority of states, paid sick leave can be utilized for a range of health-related issues, but specific provisions for prenatal care are absent. This amendment not only expands the reach of the state's existing paid family leave law but also establishes a benchmark that could potentially motivate other states to implement similar measures. It fills a gap in the current law by identifying prenatal care before the child's birth as a distinct qualifying event for leave.

In addition to this paid prenatal leave policy in New York, it's important to also consider the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) recently issued final rule (Final Rule) interpreting the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). This Act is part of a growing collection of policies and laws designed to recognize the essential accommodations and flexibilities required by pregnant and postpartum workers. This Act mandates that most employers with a workforce of 15 or more are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees who are pregnant or have a condition related to pregnancy or childbirth unless such accommodation would impose an undue hardship on the business. The Final Rule is set to come into effect in June, 60 days following its publication in the Federal Register.

How Does the Amendment Impact Employers?

The newly introduced paid prenatal leave allows eligible employees to take partial leave for prenatal medical appointments. This necessitates employers to make necessary changes to their existing paid family leave policies and procedures to incorporate this new prenatal leave benefit by January 1, 2025.

  • Employers should update their current leave policies to include the new provision of a 20-hour prenatal leave bank. This is a separate entitlement, distinct from the existing paid sick or family leave benefits. This means that employees now have an additional 20 hours of leave specifically for prenatal care, which does not interfere with their other leave entitlements.
  • In addition to policy changes, employers also need to ensure that their Human Resources (HR) and benefits staff are adequately trained to manage this new type of leave. This involves understanding the specifics of the new leave, tracking its usage by employees, maintaining separate leave banks for different types of leave, and ensuring that employees are compensated accurately when they avail this leave. This may require additional training or resources to ensure that the HR and benefits staff are fully equipped to handle these new responsibilities.
  • Employers will need to make necessary adjustments to their payroll systems to accommodate this new type of leave. Since paid prenatal leave can be taken in hourly increments, the payroll system needs to be capable of accurately tracking and compensating for these increments. The compensation for this leave should be at either the employee's regular pay rate or the applicable minimum wage rate, whichever is higher. This ensures that employees are fairly compensated for their time, even when they are availing this leave.
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