Nicole Cerullo, left, has taken unpaid family leave to care for her mother, Toni Salomone, in Commack. Photo by Jackie Molloy

By Ann Levin

Twice in her life, Nicole Cerullo has taken unpaid family leave. The first time, 11 years ago, she took three months off to care for her then 2-year-old seriously ill daughter; the second time, for her dying father.

So Cerullo, 44, an elementary school teacher in Commack on Long Island, couldn’t be more pleased that as of Jan. 1, New York will join four other states in offering workers job-protected paid family leave.

“It’s a huge relief in a time of complete sadness or stress or turmoil just to know that you don’t have to go back to work,” she said.

The paid-family-leave program, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into law last year, lets workers take paid time off to care for a newborn or a close relative with a serious illness or when a family member is called for active military duty.

Virtually all private employers in the state are required to offer the benefit to workers who have been employed full time at least 26 weeks or part time for 175 days. Public employers may opt in.

In 2018, employees can receive half of their weekly wages for up to eight weeks. Over the next three years that will increase to 67 percent over 12 weeks.

If workers earn more than the statewide average weekly wage (currently $1,305.92), replacement wages will be capped at a percentage of that amount, starting at 50 percent and rising to 67 percent by 2021.

Employees are also entitled to return to their old jobs, or one with comparable pay and benefits, and continue their health insurance, paying their portion of the premium while they’re out.

The benefit, funded through payroll deductions, is available to noncitizens and undocumented workers, too.

Four other states—New Jersey, Rhode Island, California and Washington—as well as the District of Columbia have enacted some form of paid family leave.

The state benefit is in addition to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, which allows eligible workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave for certain medical and family reasons.

The New York State Paid Family Leave Program—advocated by AARP New York—is expected to help an estimated 6.4 million state residents who lack access to paid family leave, according to A Better Balance, a national legal advocacy group.

Ann Levin is a freelance writer living in New York City.

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