Paid Time Off for Pregnant Women Might Become a National Labour Movement, Lead by New York

The national women’s health initiative is likely to include paid leave for prenatal care. Now, New York has become the first state to require employers to provide paid time off for prenatal leave.

In April, Governor Kathy Hochul of New York signed a change to the labour law in New York. This change says that employers must give pregnant employees up to 20 hours of paid leave in a year to go to their prenatal medical appointments and procedures. The provision will start on January 1, 2025.

“I hope that other states and governors who also prioritise women’s health and share similar values will follow,” said Reshma Saujani, the founder and CEO of Moms First, a campaign by the nonprofit organisation Girls Who Code.

The Family and Medical Leave Act, a law from the federal government, allows expecting mothers to take time off from work for prenatal care or if they are unable to work due to their pregnancy. This leave is protected, meaning their job is secure while they are on leave. The law allows employees who are covered to take up to 12 weeks of leave within a 12-month period. However, even though their job is safe during this period, they will not receive any payment for the leave.

Washington D.C. has passed a law similar to the one recently passed in New York. This law allows for up to two weeks of paid leave to receive medical care related to pregnancy. The D.C. law also permits an additional 12 weeks of paid leave following the birth of a baby. These laws are based on medical research that shows that receiving prenatal health care usually leads to better health outcomes for both mothers and their babies.

“The idea is that mothers who work should not have to use their sick leave or take time off from work to pay for healthcare related to having a baby,” explained Harris M. Mufson, a partner at the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and a member of the firm’s labour and employment practice. “Some people believe that there should be a separate bank specifically for that condition. They think it is the right thing to do and would provide proper support for working mothers.”

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No Federal Labor Law Precedent Exists

While the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year, there is no federal law that specifically requires private employers to offer paid leave for employees who need time off for family or medical reasons. Similarly, there is no national law that addresses paid time off for prenatal care.

Paid leave is not a topic that is divided along party lines, but it hasn’t been a priority for lawmakers, according to Saujani. “At the federal level, it has never been passed because I believe it has never been given high importance.”

At the state level, over twelve states and at least one local area have made laws that say private employers must give their employees paid family and medical leave. According to Westlaw, all laws allow for paid leave when a child is born or when someone needs to take care of a seriously ill family member. Some states also allow paid leave for other reasons, like prenatal care.

As of January, 14 states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, and Delaware, along with Washington D.C., San Francisco city, and San Francisco county, have implemented paid family and medical leave programmes.

New York included the new protections for pregnant women in its paid sick leave laws. According to Westlaw, at least 18 states, as well as Washington D.C. and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, have passed laws that require employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees. Three states, Illinois, Maine, and Nevada, have laws that allow employees to take paid leave for any reason, not just for being sick.

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