Maternity Leave | New York may be first U.S. state to introduce paid prenatal leave

New York may be first U.S. state to introduce paid prenatal leave

Eligible employees in New York could receive 40 hours of paid leave to attend prenatal appointments as Governor Hochul proposes expansions to Paid Family Leave (PFL) on Thursday.

Hochul notes this legislation, if approved by the State legislature, would see New York becoming the first U.S. state to offer statewide prenatal care. “We hope what we're doing in New York will raise the bar for the rest of the nation,” she says.

Currently, PFL is only available to employees in New York once the baby is born. In some circumstances, employees are entitled to short-term disability benefits up to four weeks before birth and up to six weeks after birth.

Employees cannot simultaneously qualify for short-term disability benefits and PFL. Hochul said that changes to treat prenatal care as a separate qualifying event will help pregnant workers address their medical needs without sacrificing paid leave following the birth.

New York’s paid family leave program is currently funded by employees through a payroll deduction, with the Department of Financial Services setting the contribution rate.

Under Hochul’s proposal, employers may also take on a greater share in the costs of the short-term disability program.
The expansion in prenatal coverage is a push to improve the quality of care for mothers, particularly for low-income households and Black women and other people of color, where mother and infant mortality rates are highest.

“Make no mistake: we are facing a maternal and infant mortality crisis,” Hochul explains. “As New York’s first mom governor, this is personal to me.”

A 2019 report from New York’s Department of Health found the mortality rate for Black infants was 2.8 times higher than that of white or Hispanic infants in 2019.

The U.S. consistently has a higher infant mortality rate than other high-income countries. A 2023 report from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) found that infant mortality rose in 2022 from 2021, as did the maternal mortality rate.

At the time, report author Danielle Ely told USA TODAY, “All of these increases, even the small increases, they all just add up to a general trend.”

Hochul hopes the amendments to PFL can help address this trend. "Consistent medical care in the early months makes all the difference," she says. “We are committed to tackling this crisis head-on with policies that lift up parents and children throughout the State of New York.”

How PFL expansion could impact employers in New York - and beyond

Any amendments to PFL in New York would impact most private employers, alongside any public sector employers that have opted into the policy.

Currently, to be eligible, employees must have completed 26 consecutive weeks of employment if regularly working 20 or more hours per week, and after 175 days if regularly working less than 20 hours per week.

The proposed legislation also includes waiving co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs for pregnancy-related benefits for New Yorkers enrolled in certain health plans.

This follows actions from Governor Hochul to offer 12 weeks of fully paid parental leave benefits to over 80% of New York’s workforce.

Other U.S. states have also seen expansions to statewide parental leave policies in recent months. In September 2023, Florida approved an expansion that allows eligible employees to receive paid maternity leave for up to seven weeks and parental leave for two weeks.

Conversely, research from SHRM indicates coverage within U.S. firms has reduced in recent years. The study found the number of organizations offering paid maternity leave fell by 33% from 2020 to 2022. For paid paternity leave, the drop was 39%.

Alongside the legislative repercussions of expanding requirements for prenatal and postnatal leave and the implications of studies on mortality rates, companies are also confronted by the attitudes of employees.

Historical research indicates that expanding coverage in line with new legislation may also positively impact talent acquisition and retention.

A 2018 survey from NARAL found that 60% of respondents said they would be more loyal to a company that offers coverage for prenatal care, family planning, and abortion care.

New York, and companies that operate within the state, may well lead the way with prenatal leave. Will other states and organizations follow suit?

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