Rhode Island will become the third state to provide workers paid time off to care for a baby or sick family member, as Democratic Gov. Lincoln Chafee on Thursday signed legislation providing the vast majority of the state's workforce with temporary caregiver insurance.
The law has been hailed as a victory by advocates for working families, who say that it will allow people to care for loved ones during a medical crisis without worrying about paying their bills.
Some form of paid family leave is required in most industrialized countries, but federal law in the United States requires only that large employers grant certain workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave. California and New Jersey are currently the only other states that offer paid family leave. Washington state has passed similar legislation but has put off implementing it.
The Rhode Island program allows workers to collect a portion of their regular paycheck for up to four weeks if they're caring for a new child or ailing parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, domestic partner or spouse. It is scheduled to begin on Jan. 1.
Sen. Gayle Goldin, D-Providence, who sponsored the legislation, says it will help workers balance the needs of their families when someone they love has a serious illness, or when they bring a new child into their lives.
"It's thrilling to know that Rhode Island is going to lead the nation on this," she said.
The program was opposed by some lawmakers who said it could be abused and that it could create difficulties for small businesses who have to deal with employees leaving for several weeks at a time.
Goldin said around 78 percent of the workforce in the state will qualify for the program. The remaining 22 percent, public sector employees, do not pay into the temporary disability system and would not qualify, she said.
The benefit would amount to 66 percent of an employee's regular paycheck, but it is capped for anyone who makes more than $61,400 annually.
It will be folded into the state's existing program for temporary disability insurance, which pays a portion of an employee's salary when they are unable to work due to illness or injury. Like that program it will be funded by a paycheck deduction and administered by the Department of Labor and Training.