New York’s new family leave policy will lead to healthier families
This week, New York state governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law the country’s most extensive paid family leave policy. The law, once it’s fully enacted in 2021 will allow for a full 12 weeks leave at two-thirds pay as long as an employee has worked for their employer for at least six months. It will be funded by a weekly payroll tax on employees of $1 per week. New York joins just three other states (California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey) with active paid family leave. As a nation, the U.S. is one of the only developed nations without a national paid family leave policy.
Paid family leave is great for families and wonderful for kids. From a pediatrician’s point of view, paid family leave is useful to my patients and their families in several ways. First, and most obviously, paid leave after the birth or adoption of a child allows new families to adjust and recover. We don’t recommend women who have had a C-section return to exercise but somehow it’s perfectly fine to return to work after just days. We talk about initiating breastfeeding but then send new mothers back to work well before their milk supply and feeding patterns are stabilized. We encourage people to remain close to home to decrease exposure to germs but then allow nearly newborns to be sent to daycare. We encourage paternal bonding with children but expect new fathers to go immediately back to work.
Sure, many jobs have the option of brief maternity or paternity leave but very few of those are paid. It’s often impossible to choose to be home when your income ceases completely.
There are other, less happy reasons that paid family leave will serve. The parent who has a sick baby, child, or relative can now take a bit of time to be present during the medical care or end of life of their loved one without losing all their income. Imagine, being a mom of a child with cancer and having to leave his or her side in the hospital in order to work to support the rest of your children. Or think about being given the opportunity to take care of a dying relative, ushering in their last wishes and being present without going into debt. I think of the parents of premature babies who after months in the NICU can spend time together once their child is at home.
Every day I see families who are working when their hearts and minds wish they were home. Twelve weeks is short (ask any new parent) but is a great start and will lead to healthier families.