PAID FAMILY LEAVE

WHAT IS PAID FAMILY LEAVE AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?

State paid family leave programs require employers to allow eligible parents time off from work to bond with a new child while receiving a portion of their wages. Among the minority of states with a paid family leave program, parents are allowed to take between 5 and 12 weeks off work, with pay varying based on a proportion of the employee’s wages prior to taking leave. States also vary in eligibility requirements, job protection provisions, and funding mechanisms.

Without Paid Family Leave, Most Parents Only Have Access to Unpaid Leave

In states without paid family leave, the only access to leave for most new parents is through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows qualifying workers to receive 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave with continuous health coverage.1,2 Only 56% of workers qualify for the FMLA,3 and the policy largely benefits higher-income and White workers.4 Because the FMLA provides only unpaid leave to eligible workers, many parents with low incomes may not use the time off or may shorten the duration of leave to avoid losing wages.

Paid Family Leave Keeps Parents Working and Supports the Health and Wellbeing of Children and Parents

By providing parents with the time and financial security to stay home to bond with a new child, state paid family leave programs can improve the economic security of the family and keep parents engaged in the workforce.5,6 Paid family leave also supports child and parental health and wellbeing. The programs help new parents have more time to bond with their babies, develop positive caregiving skills, and build the foundation for healthy attachment.7 Further, parents may be better able to seek timely and preventative health care for themselves and their children.8,9

Search the Prenatal-to-3 Policy Clearinghouse for an ongoing inventory of rigorous evidence reviews, including more information on paid family leave.

WHAT IMPACT DOES PAID FAMILY LEAVE HAVE?

Paid family leave policies providing a minimum of 6 weeks of paid leave to new parents increase the length and likelihood of leave-taking, increase mothers’ labor force participation, improve mothers’ mental health, and foster better child-parent relationships and child health. This 6-week threshold is based on comprehensive reviews of rigorous causal studies. Namely, most of the rigorous causal evidence assessed the efficacy of California’s paid family leave policy, which provided 6 weeks of benefits from 2004 to 2020. Although more states are now offering up to 12 weeks of paid leave, these longer programs have not been rigorously studied yet.

More Research Is Needed to Determine the Potential of Paid Family Leave to Reduce Disparities

Some evidence suggests that access to paid family leave may have a greater impact for women of color than for White women, however continued research is needed to understand the full potential of paid family leave to reduce disparities across outcomes. For outcomes such as family leave-taking, access to paid family leave reduces known racial disparities.10 Access to paid family leave leads to better outcomes for women of color for postpartum psychological distress and receipt of postpartum care.11,12 Research finds that access to paid family leave has no impact on reducing racial disparities in adverse birth outcomes, however.13,14

For more information on what we know and what we still need to learn about paid family leave, see the evidence review on paid family leave.

WHAT PROGRESS HAVE STATES MADE IN THE LAST YEAR TO ADOPT AND FULLY IMPLEMENT PAID FAMILY LEAVE?

Currently, 12 states have adopted a statewide paid family leave program, and seven of these states have fully implemented benefits of at least 6 weeks. Over the last year, more than half of the states without a statewide program took steps to enact one, and two states—Delaware and Maryland—voted this session to enact a paid family leave program of 12 weeks, which will be fully implemented in 2026 and 2025, respectively.

Tracking State Policy Progress

Policy adoption does not typically happen quickly. States may introduce legislation several times before adopting a policy and take even more time to fully implement it. Every year we track states’ efforts toward adopting and fully implementing each of the five effective policies in this State Policy Roadmap. The figure below summarizes the legislative activity and progress states made toward adopting a paid family leave program of at least 6 weeks in the year since the 2021 Roadmap.

In subsequent sections, we describe how states vary in the generosity and implementation of their state paid family leave programs.

To Date, 7 States Have Adopted and Fully Implemented a Paid Family Leave Program of at Least 6 Weeks

As of October 2022, 12 states have adopted a paid family leave program that, when fully implemented, will offer working parents at least 6 weeks of paid leave. Currently, families can only access these benefits in seven states, including Connecticut, which began fully implementing its 12-week program in January 2022. Connecticut joined Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Washington in providing 12 weeks of benefits. In the last year, the District of Columbia increased benefits from 8 weeks to 12 weeks. California  currently provides parents with 8 weeks of paid family leave.

5 Additional States Will Provide Paid Family Leave to Working Parents by 2026

This year, Delaware and Maryland voted to enact 12-week paid family leave programs beginning in 2026 and 2025, respectively. Next year, Rhode Island’s 5-week paid family leave program is set to expand to 6 weeks and Oregon’s 12-week paid family leave program (enacted in 2019) will be fully implemented. Colorado’s 12-week paid family leave program, enacted in 2020, will be fully implemented in 2024.

21 States Introduced, but Did Not Pass Legislation to Adopt a Statewide Paid Family Leave Program of at Least 6 Weeks

Although the states were not successful, 21 states introduced legislation this past session to adopt a statewide paid family leave program of at least 6 weeks. Of these 21 states, 19 states introduced at least one bill that would provide up to 12 weeks of benefits when fully implemented, and two states introduced bills that would provide between 6 and 8 weeks of leave.

In Louisiana, neither of the bills to adopt a 12-week statewide paid family leave program or a 12-week program for state employees passed, but the state did enact legislation to fund an actuarial study of implementing a PFL-program. Legislators in Illinois introduced several bills to adopt a paid family leave program of at least 6 weeks, and although none passed, legislators did pass a bill requiring employers to grant employees 24 hours of paid leave time for pregnancy loss, unsuccessful assisted reproductive technology procedure, failed adoption or surrogacy, or a diagnosis that impacts pregnancy or fertility.

Another two states, Colorado and Rhode Island, which have not yet fully implemented their previously enacted paid family leave legislation of at least 6 weeks, introduced legislation in the last year to reduce the premium paid by employers for the program (Colorado), and to extend the number of weeks of benefits (Rhode Island). None of the legislation passed.

15 States Have a Paid Family Leave Program for Eligible State Employees

This year, South Carolina became the fifteenth state to offer a paid family leave program to eligible state employees. The state voted to provide up to 6 weeks of benefits beginning October 1, 2022. Seven states with paid family leave programs for state employees also introduced legislation this year to adopt a statewide program (Delaware, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Missouri, Virginia), but only Delaware was successful in enacting a statewide program.

HOW DO STATES COMPARE TO ONE ANOTHER IN MAKING PROGRESS TOWARD FULL AND EQUITABLE IMPLEMENTATION OF A PAID FAMILY LEAVE PROGRAM OF A MINIMUM OF 6 WEEKS?

To date, seven states have adopted and fully implemented a paid family program with at least 6 weeks of benefits, and five of these states offer 12 weeks of benefits. One state, Washington, has fully implemented the most equitable paid family leave program in the country, as they provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave to all employees, such that all public, private, and domestic employees are all covered; as is the case in many states, self-employed workers are not automatically covered but can opt in to coverage.

Five additional states have adopted a program that, when fully implemented, will provide between 6 and 12 weeks of benefits, and the states will begin offering the benefits to working parents over the next 4 years.

Fifteen states offer a paid leave program to eligible state employees, however, of these states, only Delaware has enacted a statewide program. Currently, 25 states do not have any paid family leave program (statewide or for state employees).

Eleven of the 25 states without any paid family leave program also have laws known as preemption laws that prohibit localities from implementing a paid family leave program. An additional seven states also have preemption laws in place, but have implemented a paid family leave program for state employees (Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri, South Carolina, and Utah).

The figures below show how states compare to one another in adopting and fully implementing a paid family leave program with a minimum of 6 weeks of benefits.

HOW DOES PAID FAMILY LEAVE VARY ACROSS THE STATES?

Benefits, Funding Mechanisms, and Who is Covered Vary Among States With Paid Family Leave Programs

States’ paid family leave programs vary in the number of weeks offered, the portion of wages workers are paid, eligibility requirements, job protection provisions, and funding mechanisms.

States currently offer between 5 and 12 weeks of paid family leave. In four states (California, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island), workers are paid a set percentage of their average weekly wages ranging from 60% to 85%, depending on the state. California enacted legislation this year to increase the weekly wage replacement rate. Beginning in 2025, workers with lower incomes will be eligible for a 90% wage replacement rate; other workers will be eligible for a 70% replacement rate. In the other eight states, workers are paid a percentage of their wages relative to the state’s average weekly wage.

In many states (California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Washington), the workers cover the full cost of the program, often through a payroll deduction. In Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, and Oregon, workers and employers share (or will share by January 2023) the cost of the program, and in the District of Columbia, employers cover the full cost.

State policy choices surrounding who is eligible to take leave, as well as the automatic (versus opt-in) nature of the coverage, can have implications for equitable access to and take up of paid family leave programs. Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington include all employees (private, public, and domestic) in their paid family leave programs. Public employees are not always automatically covered by a state’s paid family leave program, but most states allow public employees to opt in to coverage. Washington is the only state that currently allows public employees to be automatically covered versus having to opt in. In California, public employers have to opt in; public employees cannot opt in individually. Self-employed employees can opt in to coverage in all states with a paid family leave program, except for New Jersey and Rhode Island. Only Delaware requires that employees (public, private, and domestic) must work for an employer with a certain number of employees (10 in Delaware) in order to be covered.

  1. United States Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. Family and Medical Leave Act. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla
  2. Cornell Law School. Legal Information Institute. Definition of eligible employee under the Family and Medical Leave Act. https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/29/825.110
  3. Brown, S., Herr, J., Roy, R., & Klerman, J. A. (2020). Employee and Worksite Perspectives of the FMLA: Who is Eligible? Abt Associates Inc. & U.S. Department of Labor, Chief Evaluation Office. https://www.dol.gov/sites/dolgov/files/OASP/evaluation/pdf/WHD_FMLA2018PB1WhoIsEligible_StudyBrief_Aug2020.pdf
  4. Bartel, A., Kim, S., Nam, J., Rossin-Slater, M., Ruhm, C., & Waldfogel, J. (2019). Racial and ethnic disparities in access to and use of paid family and medical leave: Evidence from four nationally representative datasets. Monthly Labor Review,1-29. Retrieved July 8, 2020, from jstor.org/stable/26603839
  5. Appelbaum, E. & Milkman, R. (2011). Leaves that pay: Employer and worker experiences with paid family leave in California. Center for Economic and Policy Research. http://cepr.net/publications/reports/leaves-that-pay
  6. Setty, S., Skinner, C. & Wilson-Simmons, R. (2016). Protecting workers, nurturing families: Building an inclusive family leave insurance program. National Center for Children in Poverty. http://nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_1152.pdf
  7. Ruhm, C. J. (2011). Policies to assist parents with young children. The Future of Children, 21, 37–68. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3202345/#__ffn_sectitle
  8. National Partnership for Women and Families. (2019). Paid leave works: Evidence from state programs. http://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/economic-justice/paid-leave/paid-leave-works-evidence-from-state-programs.pdf
  9. Zero to Three & National Partnership for Women and Families. (2018). The child development case for a national paid family and medical leave program. http://www.nationalpartnership.org/our-work/resources/economic-justice/paid-leave/the-child-development-case-for-a-national-paid-family-and-medical-leave-insurance-program.pdf
  10. Rossin-Slater, M., Ruhm, C., & Waldfogel, J. (2013). The effects of California’s paid family leave program on mothers’ leave-taking and subsequent labor market outcomes. Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 32(2), 224–245. https://doi.org/10.1002/pam.21676 [Paid Family Leave Evidence Review Study N]
  11. Doran, E., Bartel, A., Ruhm, C., & Waldfogel, J. (2020). California’s paid family leave law improves maternal psychological health. Social Science & Medicine, 256, 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.socscimed.2020.113003 [Paid Family Leave Evidence Review Study T]
  12. Steenland, M., Short, S., Galarraga, O. (2021). Association between Rhode Island’s paid family leave policy and postpartum care use. Obstetrics & Gynecology [Online ahead of print]. https://doi.org/10.1097/aog.0000000000004303 [Paid Family Leave Evidence Review Study Z]
  13. Choudhury, A. (2020). Long term impact of California’s paid family leave policy on breastfeeding. The Empirical Economics Letters, 19(1), 43-53. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341767260_Long_Term_Impact_of_California’s_Paid_Family_Leave_Policy_on_Breastfeeding [Paid Family Leave Evidence Review Study U]
  14. Montoya-Williams, D., Passarella, M., & Lorch, S. (2020). The impact of paid family leave in the United States on birth outcomes and mortality in the first year of life. Health Services Research, 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1111/1475-6773.13288 [Paid Family Leave Evidence Review Study S]