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 6 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 that provide a minimum of 6 weeks of paid leave to new parents increase the length and likelihood of leave-taking, increase mothers’ labor force participation, reduce postneonatal infant mortality, improve parents’ mental health, and foster better child-mother relationships and child health.
This 6-week threshold is based on comprehensive reviews of rigorous causal studies. 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 yet been rigorously studied to indicate if they provide additional benefits to parents and children.
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, but additional research is needed to understand the full potential of paid family leave programs 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?
This year two new states – Rhode Island and Oregon – began fully implementing a paid family leave program of at least 6 weeks. In January 2023, Rhode Island began providing 6 weeks of paid family leave, up from 5 weeks in 2022. Oregon fully implemented a 12-week program in September 2023. Oregon joined Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Washington in providing 12 weeks of benefits. Only California (8 weeks) and Rhode Island (6 weeks) currently provide parents with less than 12 weeks of paid family leave.
As of October 2023, 14 states have adopted a paid family leave program of at least 6 weeks. Nine of these states have fully implemented benefits, which means working parents can take paid family leave in those states.
Over the last year, Maine and Minnesota enacted paid family leave programs, which brings the total to five additional states that will provide paid family leave to working parents by 2026. Next year Colorado’s 12-week paid family leave program, enacted in 2020, will be fully implemented. Delaware, Maine, Maryland, and Minnesota will implement 12-week paid family leave programs in 2026.
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 analyze state legislation and track states’ efforts toward adopting and fully implementing each of the 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 October 2022 Roadmap release.
In subsequent sections, we describe how states vary in the design and implementation of their state paid family leave programs.
Over Half of States Introduced Paid Family Leave Legislation This Past Session
In the past year, 34 states introduced legislation to establish or modify a paid family leave program. Although unsuccessful, 23 new states introduced legislation to adopt a statewide paid family leave program of at least 6 weeks. Of these, all but two states introduced at least one bill that would provide up to 12 weeks of benefits when fully implemented, and five of these states introduced bills that would provide even more than 12 weeks of benefits.
In New Mexico, legislation to adopt a 12-week statewide paid family leave program passed the state Senate. Despite early momentum, the bill did not progress further in the House and died when the legislature adjourned. In Pennsylvania, a bill to adopt a 20-week program was voted successfully out of committee in the House, but the bill had not progressed further by October 1, 2023. In other states, legislation did not make progress beyond introduction. Legislators in Illinois passed a broad paid leave program of 40 hours for any reason, which may include time to bond with a new child, but it is not specifically family leave.
2 States Newly Adopted a Statewide Paid Family Leave Program
This year, Maine and Minnesota enacted 12-week paid family leave programs. Both programs will be fully implemented in 2026. With the addition of these two states, the total number of states that have adopted a statewide paid family leave program of at least 6 weeks is now 14.
2 States Enacted Legislation to Modify an Existing Paid Family Leave Program
Among states that have already adopted statewide paid family leave programs, nine states introduced legislation to expand or modify existing programs, but only two states – Colorado and Maryland – successfully enacted legislation.
California, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island all introduced legislation to expand coverage and eligibility rules. Legislation introduced in New York and Rhode Island would have made benefits more generous by increasing wage replacement rates for workers. In Rhode Island, legislation was also introduced to increase the number of weeks of leave available.
Colorado enacted legislation this year to clarify that the calculation of a worker’s average weekly wages will be based on the total earnings during the worker’s base period, rather than only on earnings from the worker’s current job, which could result in a higher wage replacement for a worker while on leave.
Maryland enacted legislation this year to delay implementation of the program by one year (to 2026). This delay was implemented to accommodate program changes including premium cost-sharing between employers and workers, capping total premiums, and expanding the definition of “wages” for the purposes of determining weekly benefits.
Additionally, Delaware, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Washington enacted legislation to make technical adjustments to existing paid family leave programs.
12 States Adopted or Expanded Paid Family Leave Programs for Eligible State Employees
Beginning this year, New Hampshire and Vermont, now provide up to 6 weeks of paid leave for eligible state employees, due to legislation passed in previous years. In the last year, seven states adopted legislation or took administrative action to provide paid family leave to public employees for the first time.
State employees in three states already became eligible to receive benefits. In Tennessee, eligible state employees and public school teachers could receive 6 weeks of leave with full pay as of July 1, 2023. In Texas, eligible state employees could receive up to 8 weeks of paid leave at full pay for birthing parents and 4 weeks for non-birthing parents; the program became effective September 1, 2023. Arizona adopted a Paid Parental Leave Pilot Program to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave for eligible state employees effective September 2, 2023, with benefits retroactive to January 1, 2023.
Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, and Oklahoma also adopted paid family leave programs for eligible state employees, but benefits will be available after October 1, 2023. In Florida, the Governor approved a new policy to provide 7 weeks of maternity leave and 2 weeks of family leave, which can be combined for up to 9 weeks of leave for the birthing parent. Benefits will become available after rules have been adopted by the Florida Department of Management Services. In Louisiana, the State Civil Service Commission and the Governor adopted a 6-week program, with benefits available beginning in January 2024. Oklahoma enacted legislation to provide 6 weeks of maternity leave (including public school teachers), with benefits available November 1, 2023. Legislation in Nevada was also enacted to adopt an 8-week paid family leave program for executive branch employees only, effective January 1, 2024.
In addition to new state employee programs, several states enacted legislation to expand existing state employee programs. Arkansas and Ohio extended the duration of leave and North Carolina and South Carolina added public school teachers to their state employee programs. Additionally, the governor of South Dakota expanded benefits (duration of leave, wage replacement) administratively.
In total, 23 states that do not currently provide a statewide paid family leave program offer paid family leave to eligible public employees, and the benefits range from 3 to 12 weeks often with full pay. Four additional states will begin offering paid family leave in the year following October 2023. New York also implemented 12 weeks of leave (with full pay) for executive branch employees not covered by a collective bargaining unit as of January 14, 2023; however, New York already has a statewide paid family leave policy in place.
5 States Pursued Voluntary, Private Paid Leave Insurance Programs
In the last year, five states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas) enacted legislation to authorize private insurance companies to sell paid family leave insurance. These private insurance plans place the cost burden on workers and have few regulations on the type of policy that may be offered. In 2022, Virginia enacted similar legislation. Oklahoma and South Dakota introduced similar legislation this year, but the legislation did not pass.
New Hampshire and Vermont have voluntary paid leave programs. New Hampshire fully implemented the Granite State Paid Family Leave Plan with up to 6 weeks of benefits beginning in August 2023. The program is unique in that it is administered through the private insurance market and is optional for private sector employers and employees, although state employees are automatically enrolled in the program. In Vermont, private employers can voluntarily purchase a paid family leave insurance policy for their employees beginning on July 1, 2024, and individual workers, including those who are self-employed, will be able to purchase individual coverage beginning on July 1, 2025. State employees are also automatically covered under Vermont’s program.
Policy progress has outpaced the research on private and voluntary programs, and thus, the impact of these programs for children and family outcomes remains unclear. As private and voluntary programs are implemented, research is needed to explore the equity and impacts of this approach to paid leave in states.
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 6 and 12 weeks of paid family leave and benefits are equivalent for birthing and non-birthing parents in all states. We outline the variation in policy choices among the 14 states that have enacted statewide paid family leave programs, regardless of whether those programs have been fully implemented yet.
In five states (California, Delaware, 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. In the other nine states, benefit rates are graduated, such that earnings are replaced at a higher rate up to a set threshold, and then replaced at a lower rate until the maximum benefit is reached. This results in workers with lower earnings receiving a higher percentage of their wages as benefits, as compared to workers with higher incomes. In all states, benefits are capped, ranging from $900 (Connecticut and Delaware) to $1,620 per week (California).
To draw comparisons across states that calculate benefits differently, we project paid family leave benefits for a full-time worker with wages at the national median (about $60,070 per year). Weekly benefits for these workers range from $693 in Rhode Island and California to $990 in Oregon. For states that have not yet implemented their enacted paid family leave programs, we project what benefits would be if the program had been active in 2023. We estimate states’ total paid family leave benefits by multiplying each state’s maximum number of weeks offered by their weekly benefits.
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, Maine, Minnesota, and Oregon, workers and employers share 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, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington include almost 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. Self-employed workers 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) to be covered. Additionally, not all state programs offer job protection, although employees may receive job protection during leave due to other federal and state laws. Currently 11 state paid family leave programs provide job protection to at least some employees; however, job protection may have certain requirements to apply (e.g., tenure at employer).
Beyond paid family leave, some states offer specific leave for the prenatal period, separate from medical leave, to allow workers to attend routine medical appointments during pregnancy without sacrificing their paycheck. Currently, Colorado, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Oregon, and Washington all provide prenatal leave, ranging from 2 to 4 weeks. In many states with paid medical leave programs, a worker can also use medical leave for pregnancy-related health needs. The FMLA also provides unpaid pregnancy-related leave that is medically necessary, including intermittent leave for prenatal doctor’s visits.
Half of States Have Specific State Employee Paid Family Leave Programs
Many states also have paid family leave programs for eligible state employees. As of 2023, 25 states (including the District of Columbia and New York which also currently have statewide programs) have a state employee paid family leave program. In addition, some statewide paid family leave programs automatically cover public employees. Similar to statewide leave programs, state employee programs vary in who is covered (including type of state employee and birthing versus non-birthing parents), length of leave, and wage replacement.
Almost Half of States Have Preemption Laws in Place, Preventing Localities from Establishing Paid Family Leave
As of 2023, 20 states have laws known as preemption laws in place that explicitly limit the ability of localities within the state to adopt and implement their own paid family leave laws. Montana implemented its preemption law this year.
For more information on the state policy levers to help maximize the effectiveness of a state paid family leave program see our State Policy Lever Checklists.
Notes and Sources
- United States Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. Family and Medical Leave Act. https://www.dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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
- 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]
- 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]
- 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]
- 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]
- 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]