House bill 628, which sought to establish a state administered paid leave insurance program, died in committee this past month. The decision issued in February will send the bill to a subcommittee to study over the summer before the full committee will take it up once again in November 2017.
The bill as proposed would have created an insurance pool into which participating employees would contribute a percentage of their paychecks, thereby establishing a fund from which eligible employees could then claim back a portion of their weekly wage. The provision would have allowed for up to 12 weeks of family leave.
Governor Chris Sununu had articulated his support for paid family leave during his run for the State’s top office this past year. Unfortunately, there was no mention of funding for a family medical leave insurance program in Sununu's inaugural budget speech of February 2017.
With the house bill on hold and no money in the budget, it looks like paid family leave has been put on the back burner for now. However, there are still significant protections available for Granite Staters who need time off from work for their own serious medical conditions, disability, pregnancy, or to care for a child or family member.
Understanding the Family Medical Leave Act
For starters, the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (known as FMLA) provides eligible employees with the right to take up to 12 weeks off from work for their own serious health condition or to care for a new child or seriously ill relative. Under FMLA, workers can also take leave to prepare for family members’ military service. Even more leave is available for employees who need to care for a family member who is seriously injured in active military duty.
This is an incredibly important benefit for eligible employees, but there are very significant limitations to this federal law. These limitations have led state legislators across the country to seek expanded protection under the FMLA through local legislation.
While the Family Medical Leave Act provides job protection for up to 12 weeks of leave from work, it does not provide pay during that period of time. Furthermore, not all employees are eligible under this federal law. FMLA only applies to employers in New Hampshire who have at least 50 or more employees located within a 75 mile radius for at least 20 weeks during the current or previous year. Furthermore, employees are only eligible to take advantage of this leave protection if they have worked for the company for at least one year, and they have worked at least 1250 hours during the previous year.
What does this mean for NH?
With so many small businesses in New Hampshire, this leaves a significant number of employees without mandated leave protection. Moreover, while some employers do offer generous leave policies voluntarily, and some even provide pay for certain kinds of leave, there is no requirement that New Hampshire employers provide leave if they fall outside the FMLA criteria for eligibility.
House bill 628 sought to augment the job protection provided under the Family Medical Leave with an optional insurance pool plan that would provide for at least some pay for those taking family leave time. New Hampshire's efforts to institute a paid leave policy places it in good company, internationally at least. As it turns out, the United States stands alone as the only country in the OECD (the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is group of 35 countries with advanced market economies) that does not mandate paid maternity leave at the federal level for new mothers.
Similarly, the United States is the only country among this elite group to not mandate paid vacation days, and we are also alone for our failure to mandate sick leave. (See my blog on paid sick leave in NH Flu Season:
Thus far, New Hampshire has not required employers to provide paid sick leave, paid vacation or paid family medical leave. That said, once an employer establishes a policy for paid leave time, New Hampshire state laws do require that the employer follow through with the policy. Moreover, there are any number of state and federal laws which provide employees protection during certain kinds of job absences. For example, New Hampshire employees can take protected leave for the period of disability related to pregnancy, for military leave, as an accommodation for disability, under the FMLA, and as a result of a Worker's Compensation injury.
It is possible to combine company policies, state laws, federal laws, and insurance to provide both job protection and compensation for wage loss. However, these benefits certainly aren't available to everyone, and they can be difficult to uncover, let alone obtain. (look for my blog on Free Information and Resources for Workers in NH coming March 27).
If you have questions about your rights as an employee visit our website at www.ricelaw-office.com (and the blog mentioned above). If you think you have an employment claim, we offer free case evaluations by phone. Just call 603-528-5299