Mom kissing a new born

Statutory Benefits

Real Life Stories of NY Paid Family Leave

Paid Family Leave – In Person

PFL has been a major change for New Yorkers. To see the personal side Paid Family Leave and how it has been making a difference, we spoke with New Yorkers who are sharing their experiences in our “PFL in Person” series. Read through our library of real stories from real people.

 

A Mom’s Journey Through Paid Family Leave

As work and personal life are coming full circle for Steph, a ShelterPoint employee, we follow her journey first-hand through pregnancy and taking Paid Family Leave for bonding – giving you insider tips along the way! In this 8-part series, we not only hear Steph’s perspective, but also from her boss and HR Director as they prepared for Steph’s time out on leave.

 

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Stephanie and her husband showing the sonogram in front of their house

The First Trimester

A few months ago, one of ShelterPoint’s own, Stephanie, got some very exciting news: she and her husband are going to have their very first baby! Most of you reading this already “know” her. She is part of our small but busy content team at ShelterPoint that has been educating you about all things PFL for over a year. As work and personal life are coming full circle for Steph, we’re going to follow her journey first-hand through pregnancy and PFL for bonding leave – giving you insider tips along the way!

Steph and her husband found out they were expecting towards the end of 2017. At the time, Steph’s main concern was the health of her child, which is why she didn’t tell her coworkers right away. “The first trimester is really scary — it’s when most miscarriages and all the most critical development happens,” she explained, “also reality sets in that you’re about to become parents.”

Though Steph wanted to keep her pregnancy a secret from her coworkers during her first trimester, she did decide to tell her boss early “because you never know how your body will react. I ended up having a lot of morning sickness, so it was good that I told my boss early on. It also took away some of my stress having an understanding boss who was so accommodating.” By the time Steph was ready to tell everyone about her big surprise, she said that “a lot of people had an idea already because I was just walking around kind of green all the time.”

At the end of her first trimester the news became official, and her work-family had one thought on their minds. “When people at ShelterPoint found out,” Steph said, “one of the first questions they’d ask was always ‘are you going to take PFL?’” But because Steph is still pretty early in her pregnancy, no one has brought up the subject of leave since then. “Except for my mom,” Steph added with a laugh.

“Mom mostly wants to know how much time I’m planning on taking off,” Steph said, adding that her mother-in-law had similar questions as she might be helping “watch the baby for a bit when I go back to work.”

But there’s still plenty of time for Steph to worry about the childcare logistics a little further down the line. Right now, there are other things she has on her plate.

“Trying to figure out our health insurance in general” was pretty daunting, Steph explained. “My husband and I had renewals on 1/1, so figuring that out with HR and understanding how we’ll get coverage for the baby was at the top of the list.” Beyond daydreaming about the paid time off she’ll get to take with Paid Family Leave once her baby arrives, PFL isn’t really on her radar at the moment. “Right now I’m focused on planning and scheduling ahead at work for when I’ll be absent.”

But she’s excited for both the process of her pregnancy and PFL . “It’s always on my mind,” she said. “There’s a little human growing inside you. One little kick and you instantly remember what’s going on.”

 

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PFL Expert Tip for Your First Trimester:

If you or your partner is expecting a baby, here are some important steps you may want to take during the first trimester.

  • Get to know your rights as a new working mom. You’ll want to make sure you work for a Covered Employer in New York, and meet eligibility requirements to make sure you have Paid Family Leave available to you.
  • Take some time to familiarize yourself with PFL for Bonding Leave.
  • Start considering how much PFL you may want to take after the baby comes. Even though PFL is paid, the benefit is still only a portion of your salary. So now’s a good time to start looking at budgets and see how much you might need or want to save up for.
  • Plus, unlike NY State Statutory Disability (DBL), PFL isn’t just for birth Moms! Make sure your partner also knows about the bonding time that may be available to them.
Stephanie and her family annoucing it's a Girl!

The Second Trimester

As Stephanie wraps up her second trimester, she’s started thinking ahead to her Paid Family Leave bonding time off. “Planning for how to manage everything at work when I’m out on leave is probably priority #1 right now,” she said.

“I’m doing as much as I can to prepare for my leave ahead of time,” she explained. Stephanie is working hard to soften the impact for her coworkers when she’s spending time with her new baby. She’s even making manuals and guides for all the work she does on a daily basis to help whomever will handle her duties.

While many companies might find it helpful to use a temp agency to provide temporary help while employees are on PFL, it might not work in Stephanie’s situation. “We’ve considered using a temp agency” to cover things while Stephanie’s out, “but it makes more sense for us to keep things in-house with the kind of work that we do.”

But Stephanie considers herself lucky to work with “such a family-oriented company,” and that her boss “is a mom of 2 little ones and gets it.” She doesn’t feel the pressure to come back from her leave right away, and knows that things will be in good hands while she’s out, due to her preparation and diligence ahead of time.

Stephanie remarked on how quickly the time has flown since she first found out she was pregnant, and while she hasn’t solidified her Paid Family Leave plans yet, she has a good idea of how she’ll be taking her time. “First I’ll be taking DBL as I recover from the birth, and then take about 4 weeks of PFL to bond. That way I can save the other 4 weeks available to me for later, and use it when the baby’s a few months older. But, plans could always change, and until I’m really in the situation I won’t know for sure.” Steph still has some time to solidify her plans. While it’s great that she’s having conversations early on with her employer, it’s important to remember that your PFL carrier doesn’t need any advanced notice of your leave - read more about that here.

As she has progressed in her pregnancy, Stephanie has been surprised with how many things she has to think about. Like childcare. “Looking for childcare, even though we won’t need it for 6-7 months from now has been harder than we thought. Finding a place that takes infants has been a real struggle, and there are already wait lists at some of those places. Doing all the research, and knowing which one to trust with your child can be super overwhelming. Sometimes you have to go with your gut - especially when choices are so limited.”

But with all the things she has to think about and plan for, Stephanie can’t wait to meet her baby. “We were really excited to find out we were having a little girl! It was very special - we took our parents with us to find out the sex of the baby. Knowing now that it’s a girl makes the whole thing seem a lot more real.”

 

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PFL Expert Tip for Your Second Trimester:

If you or your partner are expecting a baby, here are some important tips you may want to take during the second trimester:

  • Work with your boss or supervisor to figure out the best way to cover your responsibilities while you’re out. Whether that’s training someone else, delegating your duties, or looking into temp agencies, now’s the time to start figuring it all out.
  • Take a few minutes to familiarize yourself with the PFL forms, and everything else you’ll need to submit along with the forms when you start your bonding leave – but, make sure you don’t file your claim too early – read why here.
  • Start considering how much time you’re going to want to take off. Do you want to take the full time available to you all at once? Take half like Stephanie and save the rest for later? Having at least a rough idea could help you and your boss manage your coverage.
  • Take some time to read PFL for Bonding and Benefits of Bonding for interesting information on how you can take Paid Family Leave and the importance of bonding.
  • Our ABCs of PFL also provides detailed information to answer all of your Paid Family Leave questions.
Stephanie and her husband at her baby shower party

The Third Trimester

When we checked back in with Stephanie towards the end of her third trimester, she was excited to both meet her baby, and that it was “almost over.” “Overall, pregnancy has not been the most pleasant experience for me,” Stephanie said with a laugh, but she knows it will be worth it as soon as she can hold her new baby.

But there’s still a few more weeks to wait before the baby arrives, and some things to wrap up before she goes out on leave. Stephanie feels pretty confident that her work duties will be handled by her team while she’s out — “I’m a planner,” she said, “which hopefully people can appreciate. We’ve tried to get everything set up ahead of time as much as we can.” Planning so far in advance has helped Stephanie feel a little more secure as she gets closer to taking her leave.

As part of Paid Family Leave law, Stephanie has already provided her boss with her 30 day notice (and then some) that she is planning on taking PFL. While she can’t pinpoint the exact day her baby will arrive — babies tend to come on their own schedule, don’t they? — she was able to give a rough estimate based on her due date. But since she and her boss are close, her boss has been aware of her intention to take leave for a while now — especially since they work for ShelterPoint, and are the team that has been educating you with Paid Family Leave content for over a year. “It’s pretty cool to be able to experience PFL first-hand,” Steph added, “We’ve been living, breathing, and sleeping Paid Family Leave for over two years now, so I’m really looking forward to actually using it!”

As of right now she’s still planning on taking 4 weeks of PFL after her DBL time, but realizes that things come up and that might change. Which is why it’s so important to wait until after your leave begins to file your PFL claim form. Depending on how things go once the baby arrives, she might want to take more time, or take less and spread the remaining time out over the next year. The flexibility of Paid Family Leave allows her to do whatever makes sense for her and her growing family.

But pregnancy has brought some new and unexpected challenges with it. “Things that were really simple, like tying shoes, have become a physical challenge at this point,” Stephanie said, adding that “sleeping is a lot more challenging,” and that her giant C-shaped body pillow has been her saving grace. She even brought it with her when she traveled upstate when her family threw her a baby shower.

“It’s overwhelming all the love and support we’ve received,” Stephanie said about her baby showers. “This tiny person, who isn’t even here yet, is already so loved by everyone.” And she will be well-dressed too — Stephanie received quite the haul of adorable baby clothes from her friends and family, saying that “this little girl already has more clothes in her wardrobe than I do — her closet is full, her dresser is full, but it’s all so cute!”

Stephanie and her husband are spending their time now anxiously awaiting the arrival of their bundle of joy. While Steph’s husband isn’t planning on taking PFL himself (though many dads do), his job provides fully-paid paternity, which will be helpful. Plus, her husband’s “family lives very close, so they’ll be a big part of our support system.” And though Steph’s family lives upstate, “my mom is planning on staying with us for a while after the baby’s born” to help out.

Between the weekly doctor appointments, the last minute planning, and the struggling to tie shoes, Stephanie is still excited to meet her baby girl and “figure out how to be a mom.” She’s only a few short weeks away!

 

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PFL Expert Tip for Your Third Trimester:

If you or your partner are expecting a baby, here are some important tips you may want to consider during the third trimester:

  • Don’t forget to give your boss at least 30-days notice for your foreseeable leave. Baby might come early, or be late, but you can help avoid some headaches by staying in communication with your boss from the time you decide to take PFL until you go out on leave.
  • This is also a good time to check in with your employer to see how PFL interacts with any other benefits you may have (like DBL, other Short-Term Disability and your vacation/sick time.)
  • Start thinking about your options for how you’ll want to use your benefits. Do you want to take DBL first and then take PFL? Or maybe skip DBL and go right out on PFL directly. Will you want to take weekly leave or intermittent days? Now’s the time to start thinking about your anticipated schedule.
  • Worried you might be forgetting something important for your baby — like finding a good pediatrician? Making a list of things to do that you gather from parenting books, friends with kids, your OB, and other sources may help you feel more on top of things.
  • Take some time to read Benefits of Bonding for interesting information about how bonding can help you and baby bloom.
  • Our ABCs of PFL also provides detailed information to answer all of your Paid Family Leave questions.
Couple kissing their new-born daughter

After Giving Birth

After much anticipation (both with her colleagues at work and with her husband and family), Stephanie had her baby!

Olivia Rose was born Tuesday, May 8 at 7:44 PM. She weighed in at 6 pounds, 8 ounces.

We’re thrilled to welcome Olivia into the world!

If you’re just tuning in to our series, we’ve been following Stephanie, an employee at ShelterPoint and first-time mother, who has since taken Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with her new baby. Throughout her pregnancy, Steph revealed steps employees can take to get started with PFL, as well as how PFL has benefited her and her family.

When we last left her, Stephanie was anticipating the big day, and working with her team to ensure a smooth transition to her leave. She’d documented processes, updated certain training manuals, and made sure that—as much as possible—her team would know where to find anything they needed. All in all, they were on track for a good hand off.

And yet, despite all the effort to be ready, Olivia had her own plans: she arrived 3.5 weeks ahead of her due date.

The Friday before Olivia was born, Stephanie worked at a conference for the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM), where she spent the whole day on her feet talking about ShelterPoint and Paid Family Leave. She rested up that weekend, and the following Monday, went to a routine checkup appointment. After the exam, her doctor let her know that she might want to make sure her hospital bag was packed. Much to Stephanie’s surprise her water broke that next morning, and Olivia was born in the evening!

Even though this came as a big surprise, Stephanie was actually prepared. She often jokes that “she was at her own baby shower,” meaning that she, too, was born early—5 weeks, to be exact—so that her mom was able to bring her to the baby shower! Throughout her pregnancy, she had a suspicion that Olivia would arrive early, too.

With this little tidbit of insight, Stephanie and her co-workers had made sure to try and complete as much of the transition as early as possible. As a result they ensured that the handoff was nearly complete by the time Olivia surprised them by showing up early.

Her husband, on the other hand, wasn’t quite as prepared for an early delivery. He had to spend a few hours at the hospital closing out some loose ends for work.

But for Stephanie, because of her foresight and her team’s work transitioning a little early, she was free to focus on giving birth and spending her first days with her new baby.

And that freedom was a godsend. The first days—and first couple weeks—“were all a blur,” she told us. There’s so much to learn when you have your first child. “You can read, and prepare the best you can, but until you’re in the thick of it you just don’t know all that’s involved.” The baby’s sleeping schedule, her eating schedule. The parents have to completely give up their own routines. “Becoming a mother is the hardest but most rewarding thing I’ve ever done,” Stephanie added.

After settling in to home life with the new little bundle, a flurry of family and friends stopped in, to welcome the baby. But, those first few days Stephanie and her husband really leaned on their own parents. “I don’t know what we would have done without them,” said Stephanie.

Despite all the hubbub of a new baby at home, there was still paperwork to hand in. Though her PFL application was due to her PFL insurance carrier within 30 days of starting her PFL leave, she had a bit of time for that because she decided to take DBL (NY’s statutory short-term disability) time first. DBL is considered “pregnancy disability leave” and, in Steph’s case, provided her with 6 weeks of leave. You can read more about how DBL and PFL go hand-in-hand here.

“For DBL and PFL it’s two different sets of claim forms, with different sets of requirements, and they each need to be filed at different points in time,” Stephanie explained, “so, since I wasn’t starting my PFL right away, I knew I needed to just focus on getting the DBL paperwork submitted.” In addition to completing DBL forms herself, she needed her doctor to sign off as well. One important piece of advice Stephanie had to offer was that while she had control of how quickly she completed her end of the paperwork, she didn’t have quite as much control over how quickly her doctor turned around theirs. She told us it took about two weeks and a few follow-up calls to get her doctor to contribute their piece. Her advice? “Don’t wait to bring in or send the DBL claim form to your doctor.”

“I had always planned on taking my DBL time off first, then transitioning over to PFL,” said Stephanie. “But, I’m also living proof of why you really shouldn’t submit your PFL paperwork too early.” Not only did Olivia arrive early, but Stephanie also changed her mind about how she planned on using her PFL bonding time. Originally, she would use half now, and half a little closer to Olivia’s first birthday. But, instead, Stephanie decided to take all 8 weeks of PFL available to her directly following her 6 weeks of DBL time – giving her 14 weeks of time off in total. “I had to laugh a bit to myself when this all came up because I remembered so vividly when we were writing about how it’s actually counterproductive to file your claim before you start leave,” Steph added.

You also have the best chance of having a smooth claims process if you wait until you have all the different pieces required before you submit your PFL claim to your insurance carrier. Another piece of wisdom Steph shared was “it’s not like you walk out of the hospital with a baby and their birth certificate, which is required documentation for a PFL bonding leave claim. It didn’t arrive in the mail until about a month after Olivia was born.” It’s important to note that your insurance carrier cannot make a determination on your claim until all the required information is received. You can read more about that here.

 

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PFL Expert Tip for After You've Given Birth

Once you’re ready to start your PFL for bonding leave, you’ll need to submit the following to your PFL insurance carrier within 30 days after your actual bonding leave begins, not 30 days after you give birth (so, in Stephanie’s case, bonding leave began 6 weeks after baby was born, which means that’s when her 30-day window started):

  • PFL-1: Part A is completed by you, and Part B is completed by your employer (they must complete their section and return it to you within 3 business days)
  • PFL-2 (Bonding certification) is completed by you
  • Supporting documentation proving the relationship between you and child, such as the birth certificate. Form PFL-2 has a checklist to help you identify what exact documentation is needed for your specific bonding situation
  • It’s your responsibility to submit all the necessary forms and documentation to your PFL insurance carrier. They should be completed (except, of course, for the portion your insurance carrier will complete) and submitted all together at once. This will help make your claim process as smooth as possible.
  • Once your carrier has received your fully completed package, they have 18 days after receipt to make a PFL eligibility determination
  • Don’t forget, since bonding leave is foreseeable, you will also need to provide 30-days notice to your employer before your bonding leave begins.
Stephanie and her husband holding Olivia by the beach

Taking Paid Family Leave

We’ve been following Stephanie, an employee at ShelterPoint and first-time mom, who has taken Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with her new baby. Now, we check in with her towards the end of her leave.

If you’re just tuning in to our series, Stephanie has been revealing steps employees can take to get started with PFL for bonding, as well as how Paid Family Leave has benefited her and her family.

Coming home from the hospital, Stephanie and her husband began life with their new daughter, Olivia. As Stephanie describes it, “the first few weeks were insanity - feeding her every 2-3 hours, learning how to breastfeed, worrying if Olivia was gaining weight, and not sleeping well. Then there’s the parade of visitors coming through. It was a whirlwind.”

In Part 4 of Steph’s Story we learned that she had changed her plans on the amount of time she was planning to take all at once. Initially, she was planning to take 6 weeks of DBL time, then just 4 weeks of Paid Family Leave, leaving the remaining 4 weeks in day-long increments to use over the following months. Instead, she realized the benefits of having time to bond with her new baby and how important it was for her to spend all 8 weeks of PFL (which totaled 14 weeks of leave, including DBL) with her new daughter to strengthen their bond before going back to work and sending Olivia to daycare.

Stephanie went on, “The fog kind of lifted around week five. Those first six weeks are just about survival—keeping her alive, keeping me alive. And also, healing! You kind of forget in all the excitement that you just gave birth and your body really needs time to heal.” When the time came to submit her PFL paperwork and commit to a period of leave, Steph decided to take the full 8 weeks of PFL. Getting a little choked up, Stephanie explained that the mother-daughter bond was much stronger than she had anticipated. “I just realized once I go back to work, I’d never take another month off,” she said. “And Olivia was just so tiny, I just couldn’t picture leaving her when she was still so dependent on me.” This was her opportunity to take the extra time she would need, and thanks to Paid Family Leave, she was able to take it.

Being well prepared at work made it easier to make adjustments to her PFL time that she hadn’t anticipated she would want. Since Olivia came early, their team had already planned on Steph being on leave through August. “That went into making my decision as well. I never wanted to be an extra burden on my co-workers,” Steph explained. “Though I was still relieved when my boss who’s a mom of a 3-year old and a 6-year old, was so supportive and accommodating with my decision to take more time.”

So, what did Stephanie and Olivia do during those 8 weeks? “I learned how to be a Mom,” Steph said. “In that time I learned so much more about my daughter – like that she has one type of cry that just means she’s tired, and another cry for when she’s bored.” Stephanie explained to us that extra bonding time really gave her the opportunity to get to know Olivia. “Not to say I wouldn’t have learned those things without PFL, but Paid Family Leave gave me 8 extra weeks to be nothing but Olivia’s Mama. I was able to be 100% focused on her and her needs,” she said.

Stephanie reminded us that it’s important for dads to bond with baby, too. And, yes, both parents can claim PFL bonding leave at the same time, if they work for different employers. Even though Steph’s husband didn’t take NY Paid Family Leave, he did take some extra time off when Olivia was first born, and during Steph’s leave.

Steph added, “Not only did PFL give me the time to spend with her, but it gave our whole extended family extra time to get to know her. My parents visited a few times, my brother came to town, and even my best friend and her mom got the chance to come meet Olivia during my time off.” And, it wasn’t just Steph’s family. “We had a lot of really special days at the beach cabana with my Mother-in-law. I got to be there when Olivia had her first splash in the kiddie pool her Grandma got for her.”

Throughout baby’s first year there are a ton of “firsts,” and Stephanie expressed her gratitude for all the “firsts” she was able to be present for because of Paid Family Leave. Steph and her husband even took Olivia on her first plane ride up to Rochester where she got to meet her Great Grandparents, Aunts, and Cousins. “It’s a precious moment in my life that I’ll never forget,” Steph said.

Stephanie was glad to have been afforded the ability to take the full time off all at once. “Olivia’s a little bigger, and sturdier now, she’s thriving, and even holding her head up on her own. If I didn’t have Paid Family Leave, she would have been just six weeks old when she went to daycare.” Steph shares this piece of advice for soon-to-be parents: “Plan for the longest allowed time – even if you may not use it. Plan for it at work, and also financially ahead time. This way, when the time comes, you’ll have the flexibility to make the decision that’s best for you and your family.”

Until then, here’s some of Steph’s favorite pictures from her Paid Family Leave bonding time off!

 

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PFL Expert Tip for Taking Bonding Leave

When you’re ready to go on bonding leave, keep in mind that every family is a little different. You have the flexibility to take the time you need to bond with your child. It doesn’t all have to be taken at once, the way Stephanie took it. You can take some time up front, or in increments over time - whatever works best!

Keep these tips in mind for your time on bonding leave:

  • Keep in mind that PFL is flexible. You can take some time now and save some for later, or you can take it all at once. You can take intermittent leave, too. For example, you could take every Monday while your partner takes every Friday, leaving you only three days per week to cover with daycare.
  • Focus on the bonding! This is your time to discover your new child, so enjoy every moment!
  • Consider joining a parenting group—especially if you’re a first-time parent. This can help you learn tips and tricks to being a better parent, while also offering support for the transition to parenthood.
  • If you’re a ShelterPoint member you can check the status of your PFL claim online at: www.shelterpoint.com/claimportal
Katrin leading Marketing Department meeting

The Manager Perspective

We’ve been following Stephanie, a ShelterPoint employee who took Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with her newborn daughter. We’ve checked in with her throughout her journey to see how she prepared to leave work, see how she handed her work off to her team, as well as how (and when in the process) she submitted her paperwork to claim her benefit.

For this installment, we stepped away from Stephanie for a bit, and instead had a chat with her manager, Katrin. Stephanie and Katrin have been working closely together for 8 years. The Marketing team is small, and Stephanie plays a key role. In fact, when Stephanie told Katrin that she was pregnant, Katrin’s first reaction – as a mom of 2 little girls – was joy for Stephanie, but her manager mindset quickly came back into play: “How are we going to cover Stephanie being out on leave?”

With about 150 employees, ShelterPoint is not yet at a business size where there is much redundancy across positions – at least not in the Marketing Department. So when a team member is out on leave, it’s tough to cover the bases. At a large business, with larger teams, there’s often overlap in skill sets and cross-training, which can make it easier to cover a staffing gap due to reasons like Paid Family Leave. But smaller businesses (and smaller teams, like Katrin’s) may feel a bigger impact.

Over time, Katrin was able to grow the department and structure positions for at least partial overlap in core skills to reduce the risk of coming to a halt if the team is down by one. Automating and streamlining processes made the department run more efficiently, which, in turn, made room in the workload for team members to be cross-trained in select critical areas. And for 2018, Katrin’s department got 2 new positions approved in light of the company’s growth plan and staffing needs. So, when Stephanie announced she’d be taking leave, it was bitter-sweet news: “For one, the race was on – I’d have to make sure that I fill those open positions quickly to allow for onboarding and training (ideally by Steph herself) before she is actually out. Secondly, one of the positions is for an entirely different area of expertise; while the other one, thankfully, is closely related. But even with a new hire we’re barely making up for Steph’s absence – due to learning curves and the like – let alone take on those “bigger & better” things we had mapped out.”

The timing of Steph’s impending leave coinciding with the addition of 2 new team members was lucky in some regards, but it also meant that much of Katrin’s time would still be spent training while Steph is already out, and managing department changes and new staff dynamics that come along when a team increases by 50% at once.

“We had to be extremely well prepared to pull this off without hurting our productivity.” Katrin and Steph strategized how to approach the allocation of her responsibilities, identifying who is best equipped to take on what during her absence: What tasks were critical enough for Katrin to roll up her sleeves and take them on herself, what can be given to the new hire or other team members, and what can be paused or deprioritized while Steph is out.

This in itself opened the next question: “When was the last time we updated our manual?” It had been a while, to be exact: 3 and 6 years ago in preparation for Katrin’s own maternity leaves. And the Marketing department recently underwent so many changes that almost nothing in the manual was of relevance to train someone on what Steph does now. They set a goal that all relevant documentation would be complete a month prior to Stephanie’s due date, just in case.

“I felt confident that we’d hit that goal,” Katrin said, “A) because of Steph’s diligence, and B) because of our good work relationship she felt comfortable very early on letting me know she’s expecting while we kept it confidential until the time felt right for her to announce it to co-workers in general. So, as her manager, I was especially thankful that she told me so early.”

While Stephanie documented away, Katrin’s staff search went into hyper drive. The biggest variable was not just if but also how fast she could hire (the hiring managers among us know how long it can sometimes take to find the right person); and when that hire date would align with a) documentation being completed and b) Steph’s due date – or, really, how soon she could be out if the baby were to follow her mom’s footsteps as a premie. In the end, the stars were aligned right – and Sheila joined the team about 6 weeks before Steph’s early delivery (yes, Stephanie’s baby came ahead of schedule, a little over 3 weeks early). That gave Sheila just enough time to still get first-hand training from Stephanie.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know what would have happened if we didn’t fill that position in time. You probably wouldn’t have seen as much published by ShelterPoint during that time, as a lot of work goes into getting one of these resource articles out, aside from just writing it. We certainly would have had to be even more selective with what we can spend our resources on.”

Despite being prepared, there will always be surprises. Stephanie’s original plan was to take 6 weeks of New York’s statutory short-term disability (commonly referred to as DBL, short for Disability Benefits Law, which covers time off for recovering from giving birth – learn more here) followed by 4 weeks of PFL for a combined total of 10 weeks, and then to return to work and take the remainder of her PFL leave in short increments over the following months. But, after giving birth and spending time with her new baby, she decided to take her full PFL duration all at once, which stretched her leave to 14 weeks. “As a mom, I totally understood why she decided to take the full amount of PFL time now without putting some aside for later during Olivia’s first year. You need that time for so many reasons – to really heal, figure out this new mom thing, adjust to your new life and find your groove, and soak up all those precious little moments. Your mother instincts kick in, and there’s nothing more important than being with your little miracle,” Katrin reminisced when sharing memories from having her first baby. “But – from the manager’s perspective – I got nervous for a moment and reviewed our editorial plan, pipeline, pending projects and deadlines slated for those extra 4 weeks. But because we were well prepared, and Steph would have been out through that time period anyway (had Olivia been on time), this change of plan had little impact on our team covering her role.”

Now that they’d weathered Stephanie’s leave, however, Katrin is looking ahead to preparing without the pressure of a real leave in the immediate future. “Being able to carve out time for housekeeping on a regular basis is a challenge but helps align the team – especially as we’re growing and our responsibilities and processes are evolving.”

Having felt the same pinch in the ability to prepare as any other business, ShelterPoint is, in a way, learning as they go just like everyone else. But their biggest takeaway is that being prepared for an employee to take leave is the best way to get through a PFL absence with minimal impact on the business. And while it’s difficult to prepare when no one is expected to leave, it’s not a given that every employee will provide significant lead time, meaning there could be a crunch when it’s time for someone to take leave. For this reason, the strongest approach is to have—at minimum—a plan, and if possible documentation already in place.

 

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Katrin’s Recommendations For Managers

 

  • Develop a coverage plan. This includes what your business will do when someone takes leave. Consider these questions when making your plan: How can you allocate responsibilities while you have an employee out? Can you cover it all internally? How feasible is it to bring in a Temp? Identify which tasks (if any) can be performed by a Temp and how long it would take to train a Temp to fill your employee’s shoes while they’re out.
  • Document procedures. Don’t let leave events be your only trigger to update Manuals or document procedures. Knowing that this can be a monumental task, start by taking an inventory of tasks and then documenting the essential ones first. Details that are taken for granted or aren’t intuitive can easily slip through, so take the Manual for a test spin: give it to someone else on the team who typically doesn’t perform that task and see if they can execute it without needing to ask for explanations.
  • Cross-train where possible. When jobs don’t directly overlap, cross training helps mitigate impact when an employee is out. Understand each of your team member’s skill sets, potential, and be mindful of what’s not their strong suit for cross-training to be successful.
  • Keep in mind that PFL is flexible – and your planning needs to account for that. Plan for the longest time your employee could be out – even if they don’t anticipate using it all at once. Circumstances and needs may change, and your employees can adjust their PFL duration and schedule to fit those needs.
  • Foster a positive work and team atmosphere that allows your team members to feel comfortable to share their anticipated leave early.

The more prepared you are for an employee to take PFL leave, the easier it will be to mitigate impacts of the employee being out. For a complete look at PFL, including benefits, rates, eligibility, and more, take a look at our guide, The ABC’s of PFL.

VP of HR working in her office

The HR Perspective

When an employee takes Paid Family Leave, human resources departments have a significant role to play in ensuring that the employee understands the policy and procedure (including completing and submitting paperwork) so they can easily take leave.

In this series, we’ve been following Stephanie, an employee at ShelterPoint and first-time mom, who has taken Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with her new baby. In this installment, we reached out to Carmela, the VP of HR at ShelterPoint, for her perspective on Stephanie’s leave.

Carmela and Stephanie have a unique relationship. They’ve been working together since right after Stephanie got out of college. Since they began working together, Carmela has celebrated a number of—to put it in HR terms—Stephanie’s life events. She was there when Stephanie began work at ShelterPoint, when Stephanie got married, and now, when Steph had her first baby. “It’s been wonderful to see how Steph’s life has blossomed,” Carmela said. “When Stephanie told me she was pregnant, I was thrilled for her and Steve!”

Carmela, like most HR teams, already had a protocol in place for when an employee was ready to take maternity leave, which for maternity and bonding leave, includes setting two meetings to discuss all the details and make a leave plan with the employee. Before PFL, these meetings were primarily a matter of talking through NY statutory disability (DBL) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) along with ShelterPoint’s own internal employee policies. But in Stephanie’s case, this would be one of the first meetings Carmela would have for bonding leave since Paid Family Leave became live. So there were more pieces to line up and she had to update her plan to include PFL.

Stephanie had a lot of questions early on, and Carmela would research and answer them as they came up. One tool she finds especially helpful for the employee early on is ShelterPoint’s PFL benefit estimator tool. “I share this with all my HR buddies,” Carmela told us. “It helps the employee estimate how much PFL benefit they can anticipate based on their specific situation, which in turn can help them figure out how much they may need to save up to help cover a longer leave financially.”

But, most of the leave information is given to the employee in the two meetings closer towards the end of their pregnancy. To make it easy for the employee, Carmela has a packet of all the forms and informational materials for all the different types of benefits for new mothers they will need to go over, printed and ready for the first meeting insuring that the employee has all the information they would need to make a decision about how they would take their leave. As far as timing, she usually holds the first meeting about 5-6 weeks before the due date, and the second about 3 weeks before the baby is due. This way, the plan would be in place before the birth, and there would be a buffer in case the baby comes early – spoiler alert, more on that in a minute…

In the first meeting, she goes over a general overview and covers details like:

  • What is the employee eligible for? (including DBL, FMLA, PFL, and any other short-term disability options)
  • How long do they plan to be out?
  • How much vacation/personal time off the employee has in their “bank”.
  • The options for leave duration (for example, PFL allows you to take time all at once or in increments, how DBL and PFL durations relate)
  • What to expect in the process, including what kinds of paperwork is required and how the paid leave will work.
  • Timeline of when to file what, and where.
  • Review of benefits and identify what coverage would continue while on leave (health insurance, etc.)

The second meeting she walks through that specific employee’s situation, looking at how many PTO days etc., lays out sample leave specific to that employee, and answers any remaining questions the employee may have after reading through the packet given to them at the first meeting.

In this case, though, Stephanie threw a bit of a wrench in the works for Carmela: Stephanie’s baby, Olivia, arrived 3.5 weeks early. In fact, ironically, Olivia arrived on the very day that Stephanie and Carmela were scheduled to have Stephanie’s final meeting. While this is an unusual case, the paperwork process was not affected because you shouldn’t file your PFL claim until after the baby is born anyway. Steph and Carmela touched base via phone and email after Steph was home and settled after giving birth.

Stephanie wasn’t Carmela’s first PFL claim. She’d processed one other PFL bonding leave, and one for care of an ill family member. “Every PFL claim is emotional,” Carmela said. “While processing a bonding leave claim is filled with joy, it was very different when an employee needed to take leave because of an ill family member. While it ended up okay in the end, I really felt for the employee in the moment, and I worried about their family member.”

Carmela shared with us that PFL requirements have added an additional burden for HR teams to ensure that every option is clearly defined, all the paperwork is processed, and assisting managers strategize coverage. Carmela’s team, like many HR teams, relies on spreadsheets to track all the ins and outs of setting up and executing a PFL claim. While this can work, it can also be very time consuming. When combined with all the other HR functions, Carmela’s team has been exploring introducing a leave management tool and formulating a more formal process to help coordinate PFL, DBL, FMLA, and ShelterPoint vacation and leave policy. “A tool like this,” Carmela noted, “could make it much more efficient to track leave time against each bucket.”

And yet, even now while armed with just a spreadsheet and the first-hand experience of facilitating Paid Family Leave claims, Carmela still feels much more prepared for when her next employee needs to take leave. “It’s a little scary at first, but as you set up processes and see them working, you feel more prepared for the next one.”

 

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PFL Tips for HR Managers

 

Stephanie working at home holdng Olivia

Returning To Work

When you’ve been out for 14 weeks to recover from giving birth and to bond with a new baby, returning to work can feel a bit like “culture shock”. If you’re just tuning in to our series, Stephanie, an employee at ShelterPoint and first-time mom, has taken Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with her new baby. In this, the last of our series, Stephanie shares what it was like for her as she prepared for the next phase of life as a working mom.

For Stephanie this was an emotional transition, and even as we chatted with her now, she got a little choked up as she described it. “Leading up to coming back to work and ending leave, I personally had a lot of anxiety,” she said. “Looking back on it now, most of it was just facing the unknown – Olivia and I had a good thing going, I felt like I was just hitting my groove as a mom, and I didn’t want any of it to change.” How would Olivia adjust to the transition? How would Stephanie feel being back at work knowing that her baby wasn’t right there with her? Would she be able to pump enough milk for her when she was away? “There were some days while I was out on leave where it was a struggle just to find time to make myself lunch, or take a shower. I just couldn’t wrap my head around how there would be time to fit in a 7.5-hour work day,” Steph added.

Stephanie was honest - if it would have been feasible, she would have transitioned to a stay at home mom. But for their family that wasn’t a realistic possibility, so they already had a plan in place for when it was time for Stephanie to return to work. As part of their “back to work plan,” Steph and her husband researched daycares early on in her pregnancy, and found one that was just right.

Before Olivia was born, Stephanie also worked with her manager, Katrin, to establish a flexible work from home schedule for part of the week going forward. This way Olivia would only have to be in daycare a few days per week, and she could be with Stephanie while she was working at home. “I feel so fortunate to work at a company, and have the type of position that can be so flexible. I truly believe being able to partially work from home, has made all the difference for me mentally” Stephanie said, “Just knowing I’ll still get to be with her more days out of the week than apart, makes me feel a little better.”

As the time got closer to her going back to work, Steph wanted to try and help prepare Olivia for the transition to daycare so she’d be somewhat familiar with the people that would be taking care of her. So, in the couple weeks before Stephanie’s last day on leave, she brought Olivia to the daycare center a few times to let her play and get used to the space and the teachers while Stephanie was still with her in the room. It turns out, this was just as good for Stephanie as it was for Olivia because it gave her confidence to know that it was a safe, educational, and most importantly loving environment for her daughter.

In terms of her Paid Family Leave, there was a clear end date that she knew since the time she applied, so there wasn’t any paperwork to complete. Stephanie recommended that you confirm early in your leave that you have all the correct dates marked on your calendar so you know exactly when your leave ends, and when you’re expected to report back to work. She notes that you may want to hang on to any payment stubs and other PFL paperwork in case you may need them for tax purposes. “And, before you go back to work, if you’re breastfeeding, it’s important to check in with your HR department or boss to make sure there will be the required private space for you to pump. I suggest doing this well in advance so if arrangements need to be made, there’s plenty of time for them to do so before you return,” Steph added.

Stephanie also didn’t jump straight into her new schedule all at once - they took it slow. “I tried to not have too many changes all at one time,” Steph explained. For her first few days back Stephanie’s husband took off work and was home with Olivia, giving Steph the peace of mind that she could be away from the baby, but also knowing that she was at home with her dad. She had one day in the office for the first couple of weeks, and then eventually worked her way up to her new in office/work-from-home schedule. Once that transition was complete, then Olivia started at daycare. “It worked best for me to only have to get used to one thing at time,” Steph explained. “Having all these changes happen more gradually made for a more gentle transition.”

Stephanie said those first few days felt, understandably, “weird.” For the first time, she had to go hours without seeing her baby, and as she put it, “felt kind of like I had lost a limb. I had gotten so used holding Olivia and having her close by all the time, to all of a sudden not have her right there was a very strange feeling.” Plus, in the midst of all the buzz of being back in the office, she also had to carve out time for pumping. “Pumping at work is a whole new level of fun,” Steph said with a laugh. Stephanie shared with us that she feels her Paid Family Leave bonding time helped her really establish her rhythm with breastfeeding, and gave her the confidence to continue pumping once she returned to work – something that can feel a little awkward. She explained to us that the best way to ensure she stays on schedule was to set up a reoccurring event on her calendar so that her colleagues don’t book her time for meetings when she needs to pump. “I have the same times blocked out every day, so everyone just knows now to work around it.”

Her colleagues welcomed her with joy (and a little relief, knowing that they would no longer have to cover her role). Katrin and the team decorated their corner of the office festively, complete with a big banner that read “Welcome Back Steph!” They had a cake to mark the occasion (and they cut into it at around 10 am, but who can blame them?). Their excitement reinforced how tightly knit their team is, and as Steph described it, “It was nice to feel missed. We are like a little family here, so I was actually happy to be back.”

But picking up where you left off almost 4 months ago is no easy feat. For example, Stephanie opened her email inbox to over 7,500 emails to sift through. Important Paid Family Leave rates were about to change giving Steph and her team some big deadlines they needed meet, so there was little time to get situated. Stephanie noted that to hit the ground running actually requires a bit of trust. You have to assume that the emails in your backlog have been covered while you’re out. For the most part, Steph just filed them away and started fresh. Steph added, “And don’t go in and expect it to feel normal right away. It took me about the same amount of time I was out before I felt like I was really back.”

Now that they have made through the transition period, Steph shared with us that though she still has times of struggle within the daily grind, in the end she’s happy to be a working mom. Their family has settled into their new normal and Steph expressed gratitude for her husband who takes on making dinner, washing her pump parts, and packing up Olivia’s daycare bag so Steph can enjoy the couple of hours she has with Olivia before bedtime each night. “Priorities have certainly shifted, but I do love my job and it’s important for my daughter to see that she can have a family, and kids, but also a career,” Steph explained. “Being a working mom helps for us to provide Olivia the best life possible. I will always look back my PFL time with her fondly. But, even though I may not be physically with her every day, I do it all for her and her future – and my hope is that someday, that makes her proud.”

 

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PFL Tips for Returning to Work

 

  • Be certain you have coordinated with your employer on the day your PFL ends so that you can be clear on the date you need to report back to work.
  • Set realistic expectations for yourself and be prepared for the potential emotional effect you may have when ending bonding leave - there might be some emotional impact associated with the separation of going back to work.
  • If applicable, make your employer aware that you will be needing a private pumping space with ample amount of time before your first day back to help ensure it’s ready by the time your leave ends.
  • If you can, think about taking the transition in phases, like Stephanie did. If your employer allows you to work from home, this can be a really great way to balance the transition to coming back to work. Be sure you connect with your employer with your ask for an alternative schedule early enough for them to work out the kinks and (hopefully) approve.
  • Keep in mind, with all things it may take time for you to get to your “new normal” – and that’s ok!

Remember: everyone’s situation is different! While Stephanie was able to manage her leave and her return to work her way, you’ll need to find the way that works best for you and your situation.

More Real-Life Stories About NY Paid Family Leave

 

A Mom-To-Be Anticipates A New Take On Maternity Leave
pregnant Becky standing next to a BUMP traffic sign

Paid Family Leave will impact families of all shapes and sizes, bringing relief to mothers, fathers, and caregivers struggling to balance the challenges of working and being there when family needs you.

We’re looking at the impact of PFL as part of our “PFL in Person” series on the personal side of PFL, starting with the benefit perspective of a mom expecting this month (You read that right! Even moms expecting THIS YEAR can take time off as soon as January 1st of 2018). So, for one of our own, PFL stands to make a big difference.

And maybe your parenting journey looks a little like this:

  • You worked hard in college and worked your way into a great position. While at this career you love, you came across something else you love - your future husband.
  • Fast forward a few years, baby number one joins the mix - and everything changed: being a new mom isn’t easy, and finding some peace to actually bond and soak up those precious and beautiful moments with your little one, even harder. Before you know it, your vacation and sick days are used up, and it’s time to return to work - and along with it, the challenges of balancing career and family.
  • Somehow, you manage to make it all work, like the superstar you are: first one up in the mornings to get breakfast going and pack up bags, then there’s daycare drop-off, urgent emails, conference calls, work fires, pediatrician appointments, errands, dinner, bathtime and lullabies, all so you can be the last one in bed. You want a good career and want to be a great parent - it’s overwhelming, exhausting, yet completely rewarding each and every day.
  • It’s not long before baby number 2 is on the way. And you’re overjoyed to expand your family. And last time it was hard enough - stitching together sick and vacation days to afford a few weeks off you needed for your family - even though FMLA would have protected your job for 12 weeks. But who can stay out that long without a paycheck? That was last time. This time, things will be different!

What to Expect When You’re Expecting… to Take PFL

What if there was a way to help parents manage the necessary work-life balance just a bit better?

That’s where Paid Family Leave comes in, and why the State of New York is addressing the reality parents like Becky face when they’re starting the most important job of their lives and want to do right by their careers and their kids. PFL is a first step toward helping families achieve that, with less stress. With PFL, new moms in 2017 can plan to take time off as soon as 2018 starts, so they’ll be able to spend necessary bonding time with their newborns.

PFL helps you focus on what really matters.

Becky’s “maternity leave” as a 2017 mom will look a bit different than her first one or than for moms giving birth next year. Her paid family leave doesn’t kick in seamlessly after giving birth and transitioning from DBL - but rather a few months later.

Becky can receive 50% of her average weekly wage (capped at the State’s average weekly wage) for up to 8 weeks next year (benefit amounts and weeks gradually increase until 2021 as PFL rolls out over 4 years). So, come January, she doesn’t have to think about the sick/vacation time she’s accrued, or how much her statutory short-term disability (DBL) will pay.

And it’s not just the financial aspect that helps ease Becky’s mind, additional PFL perks include:

  • Keeping health care coverage while on leave
  • Job protection and discrimination protection while on leave - just like FMLA
  • Not having to use earned vacation time to cover or extend leave

So how much paid time off can 2017 moms qualify for in 2018?
The amount of paid time off a 2017 mom can take next year, is determined as follows:

You can take up to 8 weeks from January 1, 2018, until your baby’s 1st birthday. Here are 2 examples:

  • Becky qualified for the full 2018 maximum time since she gave birth in March 2017, which is more than 8 weeks into the year.
  • If you gave birth early this year, say January 17, for example, you would could take up to 15 days paid time off.

 

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Becky’s Advice For Practical PFL Planning

As the state finalizes PFL (see the latest draft regulations) many details are forthcoming, but there are some tips Becky recommends to streamline the process of going out on paid family leave, regardless of your situation:

  • Give as much advance notice to your employer as possible.
  • When leave is foreseeable (like a pregnancy), have a conversation to inform your employer.. Paid Family Leave requires employers to receive notice of at least thirty days prior to the expected leave if the leave can be reasonably anticipated. Employers may value efforts to keep them informed so they may plan for your expected leave.
  • Familiarize yourself with your rights under both PFL and FMLA.

Take responsibility – you are responsible for filing your claim and all the necessary supporting documents.

  • Research eligibility requirements before your leave begins. This should allow you to collect everything you’ll need ahead of time - there’s nothing worse than trying to pull together documentation to send to insurance carriers, or having to phone hospital administrators when you’re freshly home from delivery with an infant – you’ll want to be in full recovery and bonding mode, and having all of your paperwork organized can facilitate that process.
  • Make copies of everything! Once you’ve determined everything you’ll need from an administrative perspective, having duplicates on hand will not only help ease your mind, you’ll be prepared to fill any gaps that could otherwise delay your claim.
  • Reach out for help if you have questions - it can be daunting to track down all the requirements, which is why we’re here to help. (The state also has a dedicated phone support team (844-337-6303).

PFL helps provide peace of mind, and we hope it will help Becky and all the other moms and families out there expecting this year or sometime in the future, have exactly that.

A Dad’s-Eye View Of Paid Family Leave
Mark holding his new born baby

“Paternity leave” is hardly a household phrase in the United States and chances are you might not even be familiar with it. In a nation without any mandated paid maternity leave, maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that paternity leave might as well be the stuff of urban legends. While the US lags behind 196 other industrialized nations in the effort to bring paternity leave to the mainstream, there are a handful of states which are leading the charge for Paid Family Leave, like New York.

Meet Mark, who at the time of this writing, has just welcomed his second child. A few weeks ago, we sat down with his wife, Becky, about the impact of Paid Family Leave on her experience as a mom, and we wanted to see how Mark’s journey compares.

Paternity Leave without PFL
Both ShelterPoint employees, Mark and Becky, have particularly unique circumstances in that they are covered for the same qualifying event (the birth of their baby) and work for the same company. Prior to the implementation of Paid Family Leave, they would have had 12 weeks of combined FMLA time off in connection with the birth of their baby. So, when their first child was born, Mark took 2 weeks of time off to bond with his growing family and ensure Becky had all the time she needed to recover. After those 2 weeks, even though his infant was still very small, he headed back to his professional obligations.

While for Mark the decision to return to work after 2 weeks was simply due to financial considerations, in many other companies there are additional cultural forces at work that bring new dads quickly back into their job, with paternity leave so far outside the corporate vernacular. Then as now, there seems to be pressure on fathers to stay in the workforce and “not skip a beat” when their children are born. Even women don’t take nearly as much time as they would be entitled to under FMLA or their statutory short-term disability (DBL): FMLA grants 12 weeks of job protection, which however is unpaid, and DBL pays benefits for up to 6 weeks for normal deliveries (or up to 8 weeks for C-sections) – but the average length of pregnancy-related disability claims of ShelterPoint’s insured population is only about four weeks. A major factor for this may be attributed to the fact that New York’s mandatory DBL maximum benefit provides only 50% of salary to a maximum of $170/week.

Paternity Leave with PFL Gives Families Options
As Mark looks ahead to bonding with his second born, he’s grateful for the flexibility PFL affords his family. With the guaranteed paid time off PFL provides, Mark is entitled to take time off to bond with his little one next year. Although his 2018 bonding time off will be paid – or rather partially paid, to be exact – he still has to do his math to figure out how long he can afford to stay out given the maximum benefit.

PFL may help tremendously.

As a family, he and Becky can also plan out how they will each take time - and potentially stagger it in a way that makes the most sense for everyone since they both work for the same company. It also has the added benefit of insulating him from some of the financial pressure to return to work right away, and gives him the empowerment many dads need to embrace their new role as fathers.

It may change the equation for a lot of people.

2017 Dads Qualify for Paid Time Off in 2018
Starting on January 1, 2018 – even though Mark’s son was born in March, 2017 – Mark can take paid time off to bond with his son, as much as 8 weeks at 50% of his average weekly pay capped at 50% of New York’s average weekly wage, which is currently at $1,296 and would therefore provide a maximum of $648/week (this may change on July 1 when the NY Department of Labor performs its annual assessment). Both time off and related payments are slated to increase to a total of 12 weeks off at 67% of the employee’s average weekly wage, capped at 67% of New York’s average weekly wage, by 2021.

So how much paid time off can 2017 dads qualify for in 2018?
The amount of paid time off a 2017 dad can take next year, is determined as follows:
You can take up to 8 weeks from January 1, 2018, until your baby’s 1st birthday. Here are 2 examples:

  1. Normally, a dad in Mark’s situation would qualify for the full 2018 maximum time since his son was born in March 2017, which is more than 8 weeks into the year.
  2. If your baby was born early this year, say January 17, for example, you would only be allowed to take paid leave between January 1, 2018, and January 16, 2018.
    However, since Mark works at the same company as his wife Becky, there are additional factors that impact his (their) paid leave. Details around family members working for the same employer and taking leave for the same qualifying event are still to be determined.
Enhancing the Family Connection
There’s a reason most other nations have prioritized the importance of bonding for fathers and families. Not only do studies show extended bonding time with newborns benefits children, the positive impacts extend to fathers as well.3 Extended bonding time increases a father's’ confidence with his child(ren) and enhances their connection as a family, providing a lot of physical and psychological benefits that bonding with mom alone can’t bestow.3

For Dads like Mark, it will mean he has the time to spend with both his children now that they have a new family addition. He can take those hours to walk the zoo with his boys and find the very best dinosaur books at the library so dad and both kids feel a renewed attachment as they navigate the new chapter of their family’s journey.

 

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Mark’s Advice for PFL Planning

Doing your research and knowing your own rights when it comes to PFL is a great first step. Mark also recommends avoiding assumptions that your employer knows everything about Paid Family Leave, especially if you work for a small company without a dedicated HR resource.

Whether you’re expecting soon, next year, or just want to learn more about the new benefits of Paid Family Leave, we’ll help you find what you’re looking for.

1Business Insider; http://www.businessinsider.com/countries-with-best-parental-leave-2016-8/#finland-1
2Actual benefits will depend on final Paid Family Leave regulations and claim details.
3The National; http://www.thenational.ae/lifestyle/family/the-importance-of-father-child-bonding

Adopting A New Approach To Bonding
Portraits of Joy and Judy

When you hear bonding leave, a newborn little bundle of joy probably comes to mind first. But Paid Family Leave is not just meant for parents to bond with their new baby after birth – adoptions qualify for bonding time as well, regardless of the minor child’s age. Let’s face it, whether your newly-adopted child is still an infant or a teenager, you will need quality time to get your new family “gelling”.

As Paid Family Leave will impact families of all shapes and sizes, and we’re celebrating LGBT pride month, we’re excited to bring you real-life story #3 in our “PFL in Person” series. Meet Joy and Judy, who adopted their first child late last year and are looking to further grow their family next year when the availability of paid leave may help them better bond when they welcome child number 2 into their family.

Joy practices yoga and tries to find time for meditation to help focus her priorities. She and her partner, Judy, share responsibilities at home, and at the property management business they own, trading off in an effort to keep everything running smoothly at home, and at work. They’re your typical New York family— owning a house and work obligations and, like most New Yorkers, knee-deep in the hustle it takes to make a life, and all its ends meet.

But there was something missing. They started discussing the possibility of adopting, and eight months ago they welcomed the first addition to their loving family — a 12 year old girl. Celebrating with a party and planning trips and events to facilitate the bonding process, both Joy and Judy struggled balancing time at home to bond with their daughter against their obligations at work.

Bonding Time Is More Important Than Ever
Both Joy and Judy were able to take two weeks off work to spend with their new daughter, but the bonding process post-adoption can be challenging and unique to each child, and Joy still wishes she’d had more time to devote to that crucial period. It’s not just the physical time, either. In today’s ever-connected world, Joy expressed the all-too-familiar concerns of trying to be really present during time with family and loved ones, and not “constantly checking your phone,” or worrying about work and what may be happening at the office when you need to be fully focused on your new addition.

These are issues that ring true with parents of all stripes and demographics, with kids of all ages. There’s a constant balancing act between all of our obligations and only so many hours in the day. And when you become an entirely new family unit, two weeks can feel like a comically short period of time in which to establish the critical familial foundation that can set the tone for the rest of your life, and the life of your partner and child.

Adoptive Parents Talk Bonding With Their Children
Joy and Judy are lucky, in many respects. The nature of their work allows them to trade off with each other, and work at home often as they need to attend to familial obligations. Yet they still feel the stress of trying to squeeze in a months- and years-long bonding process into a few short weeks. Both expressed desire to take at least four weeks off work to spend focusing on their new family, and in an ideal situation, more like eight weeks.

"If I had my choice, I would be at home a lot more than I am."

As the couple looks forward to adopting a second child, the possibility of being able to use Paid Family Leave during that process makes them feel much more comfortable. “It’s never easy,” but when you know you will be able to take more time to bond, and you’ll also be able to earn a little money while doing it, “the tension isn’t there.”

"If the tension isn’t there, you are nicer and more relaxed."

The time they look forward to taking with PFL will allow them to focus more on their family, as they welcome another child and take the time to participate in all the activities that bond families together — from family picnics and road trips to quiet nights at home. And it’s not just the familial bonding aspects of PFL that make PFL appealing for Joy and Judy. Being able to care for an aging family member who gets sick or injured, or when someone in the family is called to active military service, having the time to spend truly away from work benefits families of all kinds.

So how does Paid Family Leave work for adoptions?
If Judy and Joy adopt their second child in 2018, they each can receive 50% of their average weekly wage (capped at the State’s average weekly wage) for up to 8 weeks next year (benefit amounts and time gradually increase until 2021 as PFL rolls out over 4 years). Additional PFL benefits include:

  • Keeping health care coverage while on leave
  • Job protection and discrimination protection while on leave - just like FMLA
  • Not having to use earned vacation time to cover or extend leave

 

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PFL Expert Tip

While PFL can be taken for the obvious bonding needs after the actual adoption, you can even take paid family leave before the actual placement if an absence from work is required as part of the process, such as counseling sessions, appearing in court, consulting with attorneys or doctors representing the birth parent, physical examinations, or traveling to another country to complete an adoption!

However, if you take PFL for early adoption-related events before the actual adoption date, your 52-week clock for paid family benefits starts ticking on the first day of leave taken, i.e. your entitlement to paid family leave for adoption expires at the end of the consecutive 52-week period beginning on the date of the placement or first day of leave taken, whichever is earlier.

If you have plans to adopt, PFL can make the process easier for your growing family – find more details on coverage and eligibility.

Bonding Photo Contest Winner, Sheeja
Picture of Sheeja and her new-born baby at the hospital bed

Remember the bonding photo contest we ran last year for new mothers and fathers who had taken Paid Family Leave (PFL) to bond with a new child? The competition was fierce—voters had over 250 photos of beautiful babies and joyful parents to choose from—but in the end, with 2,050 votes, we had a clear winner: Sheeja with her daughter Serena. You can check out her winning entry here.

We caught up with Sheeja, and heard her real-life Paid Family Leave story: Her daughter Serena was born in October of 2017— a few months before PFL became effective for New Yorkers in January of 2018. So, if Serena was born before the PFL went live, how was Sheeja able to take PFL to bond with Serena? Because parents have one year from the date of baby’s birth to take Paid Family Leave for bonding – this included babies born in 2017! This means, Sheeja had from January 1, 2018, through October of 2018 to use her PFL time off.

Sheeja lives in Port Chester, NY with her husband and now two kids. She works as an RN at a hospital in the Bronx, a 30-minute commute from home. She explained to us that right after Serena was born, Sheeja took her New York statutory disability (DBL) leave for 6 weeks. This time helped her recover from birth and to begin bonding with her newborn, but she was back at work before she knew it.

As a nurse, Sheeja works three 12-hour shifts each week. Those long hours away from Serena took a toll. Not only because Sheeja wanted to be with her new baby, but also because it had a big impact on her breastfeeding routine. The hospital where she works does have a mother’s room where she could pump, but that room is located in another building on campus, making it difficult to fit in the time.

But luckily for Sheeja, she remembered the new benefit her union representative had emailed her about before Serena was born: NY’s Paid Family Leave. While Sheeja had the right to take the leave time to bond with her baby, it was a little tricky for her to navigate. At the time, PFL was still pretty new, and many organizations were still working out the logistics of compliance and coverage – including the hospital where Sheeja works. Because Sheeja chose to take PFL during the summer of 2018, it added the staffing challenge on top of managing vacation requests, too. But, in the end Sheeja worked with her union rep to secure the dates she needed - 8 weeks during June and July.

Sheeja describes being able to take PFL as a real stress reliever, “I wasn’t mentally ready to go back to work. I was still thinking about my baby and what she would be doing at home with my in-laws while I was working,” she said. But when she was able to take PFL that summer, she spent bonding time with Serena outdoors, saw her daughter sit up for the first time and other important developmental milestones.

Milestones Sheeja feels she missed out on with her son, Ryan, who’s now five. Sheeja also shared that Ryan was breastfed for 2 months, but thanks to her extra bonding time, she was able to breastfeed Serena for much longer. And because she was home with her baby, she could also watch how Ryan bonded with his new sister.

Sheeja’s husband also took advantage of Paid Family Leave in 2018, because bonding leave is for dads, too! They tag-teamed their leave, Sheeja took time during June/July, and her husband took his time in August and September. “He is a pro at diaper changing now!” Sheeja noted. Sheeja and her husband decided to use their PFL for bonding time all at once. But, when taking PFL, you have options – you can read more about those here. You might also want to check out this resource article to how to calculate PFL benefits in 2019 if you are planning for time off.

Sheeja explained that for her, PFL has enabled her and her husband to bond with their second child in a way they couldn’t do with their first. “Paid Family Leave is definitely important,” she said, “I don’t know why it wasn’t there before. It gives women a lot of support and respect. Having a baby is once-in-a-lifetime kind of thing and we should be able to enjoy it without any restrictions or guilt.”

Are you a soon-to-be mom? Get Paid Family Leave tips for any stage of your Pregnancy journey with this expecting moms downloadable guide here!

Mom holding a pair of baby shoes

Caring For An Ill Family Member
Picture of Oscar and his mom

It’s a reality grown children often face — a time when their parents, stepparents, or caregivers reach a point when they need care themselves. Not always something we plan for, it can be hard to know when, or how much, time we’ll need when it happens. It’s natural to jump at the chance to be there for loved ones who have provided so much support and love to us, regardless of our work situations.

Many people don’t consider having options for time off, especially from a family leave perspective since it’s most often thought of with new babies — but that’s just what Paid Family Leave does. Not only does PFL support expecting mothers, it includes the care of ill family members as a qualifying event for benefits. So, if you have the challenge of caring for aging parents or loved ones ahead of you, PFL can be there to expand your support system.

As part of our “PFL in Person” series, we talked with Oscar about how he manages this very situation — the heavy demands of work-life balance and attentive parent care.

Balancing Full-Time Work and Being There for Our Parents
Living and working in New York with 75- and 82-year-old parents, Oscar is no stranger to the worry that comes with maintaining his career while taking mom or dad to doctor appointments and checking in on them regularly. Like many in his demographic, Oscar’s parents are entering a stage of life where their care can conflict with traditional 9-5 work, and his ability to manage the responsibilities of both.

Sometimes work is cool about it, other times, not so much.

A project manager for a security company, Oscar’s job has only been getting busier at a time when his parents require more and more attention. From big, scheduled things like doctor appointments to finer points like making sure his elderly dad isn’t mowing the grass in the heat of the day, there’s almost always something on his mind. His mother recently had cataract surgery, which came with a three-day recovery period. During this time, she was unable to care for herself or her husband. It’s time Oscar knows he needs — and wants — to spend with her, but asking for the time off can still feel like a delicate balancing act that he’s not always on the right end of.

If I don’t go to her surgery, I’m going to feel like garbage.

Right now he’s making it work, drawing from his pool of five weeks of vacation, but using that time for things that aren’t spent resting and recharging himself can cause friction and ultimately drain a well that’s not being refilled.

It’s easier now for Oscar to envision a scenario when he might have to make the hard choice between using vacation for himself, and using it to care for mom or dad, or finding alternative care options. There might be a time when those five weeks won’t be enough to provide the level of care and attention his parents need, and that worry is always on his mind.

Even now, it’s tough to keep a very close eye on them.

PFL for Parent Care
When PFL launches next year, Oscar will have more options — something he was pretty excited to hear, especially since his company only offers accrued vacation and federal holidays for time off. Not only will he have access to more time, he’ll be able to earn part of his income while he takes that time. So, if one or both of his parents need a significant amount of recovery after a surgery or procedure, he can use PFL to earn part of his salary and not worry about compromising his job position.

It’s a step that goes a long way to provide more resources and support for himself when it’s time to put his family first. And it’s not just the time or the money, it’s the emotional uplift that can come from having his employer, and his community, in his corner at a time when things feel fragile, emotional, and stressful. PFL can ease his mind to do the most important work – being there when his parents need him most.

How Does PFL Work For Providing Care?
Starting as soon as January 1st of 2018, Oscar can use PFL to take up to 8 weeks of time off to care for his mother or father, earning 50% of his Average Weekly Wage (AWW) capped at 50% of New York State’s Average Weekly Wage (NYSAWW) for a maximum of $653 per week. Each year after 2018, the benefit amount increases to a cap of up to 67% of Oscar’s weekly wage up to 67% of NYSAWW for 12 weeks in 2021 when PFL is fully rolled out. And it’s not just the monetary benefit that can help Oscar, he’ll also:

  • Feel more secure while on leave knowing his job is protected
  • Keep his own health care benefits as though he were still on the job
  • Have the ability to keep his earned vacation days if he chooses

Find more information about PFL in New York, like coverage and eligibility details to care for a seriously-ill family member.

This material is not intended to provide legal counsel. Please consult with an appropriate professional for legal and compliance advice.

HR Professionals And Business Owners Prepare For Paid Family Leave
Portraits of Samantha and Steve

Paid Family Leave (PFL) will be here before you know it, and at ShelterPoint, we are working hard to provide small business owners and HR professionals on the front lines with the resources and guidance they need for navigating this new law and regulations.

PFL can provide benefits for employees by facilitating partially paid, protected time off for qualifying events like childbirth or caring for an ill family member. Whether it’s a mom taking time with a new baby, parents bonding with a child after adoption, or a family adjusting to a loved one in active military duty, PFL aims to help families of all kinds balance work and life with a little more peace of mind. Applying these benefits in the real world, however, presents some upfront costs and labor for businesses when it comes to preparing for — and living with — PFL compliance.

To help others understand how the process has been going so far, for our next "PFL in Person" we spoke to two representatives at the forefront of the implementation of these new regulations: an HR Director at a real estate firm and a small business owner in New York. Here is what they had to say.

Responsibilities
Samantha is Director of Human Resources for a private real estate business employing just over 200 people in New York. She oversees all things staffing-related — from training and recruiting to payroll and benefits. Along with four team members to help her, she keeps her organization running smoothly. When PFL goes live in a matter of months, she’ll be responsible for getting her organization current and compliant with the new legislation.

Steve is the co-owner and Vice President of a local tennis center. With under 20 employees, his facility has a true small business feel. It’s Steve’s job to make sure the club succeeds — from keeping guests happy to managing the day-to-day operations of the club. He helps coordinate programming for adult and junior athletes, oversees summer camps, and works with staff and coaches to bring the best possible tennis experience to their guests.

A Complicated Landscape
Like most employee benefit programs, PFL will come to market with challenges and benefits. Employers like Samantha and Steve are currently working on preparing for the coming stresses, as well as looking for the benefits for their employees and their businesses at-large.

Leading an HR team comes with a major amount of coordination, planning, and attention to detail. No stranger to this, Samantha’s 12 years of human resource experience provide her with perspective on how complicated integrating new legislation, like PFL, can be.

She’s managed her share of FMLA and short-term disability (DBL) claims for her company, and both regularly cause challenges in tracking and administration — even an established program like FMLA, which has been law for more than 20 years, can be challenging to maintain. Due to Samantha’s familiarity with what comes from managing such programs, she is hyper-aware of the challenges that can accompany PFL and is currently spending time building her knowledge of the structure of PFL to develop procedures and processes that will make implementation as seamless as possible. Her attention is focused on mitigating as much risk as possible for her organization.

“If We’re Still Facing These Challenges With Something That’s Been Around For 20 Years, Something New Is Bound To Cause A Lot Of Stress.”

Steve, on the other hand, has less current regulation experience to draw from in this area, since he has to juggle all aspects of running a small business and can't soley focus on HR and benefit related areas. Hearing about PFL has piqued his interest, since he sees it as another valuable benefit for his staff. Steve’s focus on creating an environment that supports his employees — so that he has a healthy and strong workforce — makes this program even more appealing to him. Steve’s attention is focused on leveraging PFL and similar programs to allow him to build an employee-base that sets his business apart.

“There’s No Question In My Mind That It (PFL) Will Create An Environment That Will Benefit Employees And The Business As A Whole.”

Samantha’s Expectations for PFL
Samantha’s experience with other similar benefits tells her PFL will come with its own set of challenges, both for human resources and the business overall. She anticipates it will add costs for her company, as they already manage both administrative and legal fees related to FMLA. In addition, she expects added resource costs associated with using temporary staffing, preparing new materials and tracking systems, and overall adjusting the business to be fully PFL-compliant.

She worries about her employees’ reaction to PFL. In general, the workforce at her organization is more mature, and generally more likely to be thinking about retirement than expanding their families. Helping her team understand and appreciate how PFL could help them in the future (by caring for an ill family member, for example) is a task she is approaching both delicately and deliberately.

Samantha also expects PFL will complicate administrative duties, and she’s prepared for the official launch to be chaotic. Since employees will be responsible for filing their own PFL claims, she anticipates that could be one of the biggest pain-points for her organization, and is working on developing ways to educate her team so that they are better prepared.

“It Seems Crazy To Think People Are Going To Do That Reliably Or Correctly Without A Lot Of Guidance.”

Steve’s Expectations for PFL
The nature of coaching tennis is very personal, and it made sense to Steve to translate that mentality into how the club interacts with its staff. Before Steve began managing the club, it was struggling to keep its doors open. Now they are growing the business year over year. Steve and his colleagues made a bet that if they focused on taking great care of the pros, the pros would take better care of their clients, which would build the business. And they were right. With a happy team providing great service to guests — as well as a few capital investments to the facility — the club continues to grow, attracting more and more members every week.

PFL will provide another way for him to really take care of his employees, even if it means some challenges getting started. And there are plenty of questions and uncertainties on the horizon, especially when it comes to new regulations. One of the biggest PFL challenges for the club would be filling in for team members while on leave. Since the pros form unique bonds with guests that aren’t easily transferred, Steve has pretty realistic expectations that there could be issues implementing PFL, but is working with his team to develop plans that will lessen some of the pains.

“Staffing Will Be A Huge Challenge.”

The Countdown to PFL
Getting ready for changes to benefit updates such as PFL requires a great deal of education and preparation.

After hearing about PFL in early April, Samantha began learning as much about it as possible. Digging into all the available details, she even appeared on a PFL panel for small businesses. After researching PFL, the next step she took was contacting her current DBL provider since PFL will be wrapped into existing DBL plans as a rider. When she contacted her provider requesting information, she got a worrisome answer:

“They Were Clueless. So I Thought I Better Start Looking Into This Since They Don’t Know Anything About It.”

Not exactly bolstered by her DBL carrier’s reaction, she turned to resources like the New York State Business Council, and the Worker’s Compensation Board to find a continuous lack of information. Other resources, like ShelterPoint, proved to be more proactive and informed about PFL and helped provide some details and guidance.

“ShelterPoint Is Definitely The Key Place I’ve Gone Since The Beginning Of This.”

After gathering as much information as she could, Samantha called her payroll provider to find that they were already set up to start taking deductions by the July 1, 2017, deadline. A pleasant surprise, having her payroll system in place was at least one thing off her mind at a time when her to-do list seemed to be growing exponentially.

She also started building relationships with recruiting firms, so that when team members do start taking time off she’ll already have contacts lined up to help her fill those staffing gaps.

Though Steve just recently learned about PFL, he plans to expand his knowledge of it quickly. He’s also planning keeping track of all the changes to ensure that he will be fully compliant when PFL rolls out.

 

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Samantha and Steve’s Advice For Other Small Businesses

When asked what advice she could provide to other HR professionals tackling the PFL challenge, Samantha stated that the key is to start preparing for PFL now, while there’s still some time before the end of the year. It can be easy to put if off, but it’s important to realize it’s not the type of thing you can deal with effectively at the last minute — especially if you want your business to avoid potential fines for non-compliance. Digging in and learning as much as you can, just as she did, is a great starting point.

Steve also advises learning as much as possible about PFL, as well as keeping lines of communication open with staff and other peers. With so many changes coming for businesses of all kinds, having the ear of a trusted friend or colleague can go a long way in helping stay ahead of the curve. In addition, try to keep in mind the benefits to employees as a way to stay motivated as you work through any upcoming struggles with implementation.

For additional steps you can take now, we recommend following Samantha’s lead by calling payroll providers, staffing agencies, and insurance providers to see where you stand. It’s our goal to help you access the resources you need to stay in compliance — find more information to help your business prepare for PFL.

 


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The ShelterPoint family of companies operates under the “ShelterPoint” name strictly as a marketing name, and no legal significance is expressed or implied. The ShelterPoint family of companies consists of ShelterPoint Life Insurance Company, a NY-domiciled carrier, and its wholly-owned subsidiary ShelterPoint Insurance Company, a FL-domiciled carrier, depending on the state. ShelterPoint is a registered service mark.

Underwritten by:
ShelterPoint Life Insurance Company (principal office in Garden City, NY) in: NY
ShelterPoint only offers Paid Family Leave in form of a rider to DBL.
Policy Form# SPL DB0919 F

This page is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide legal counsel. Please consult with an appropriate professional for legal and compliance advice. Any Paid Family Leave information is based on the applicable statutes and may change if guidance is issued by the State of New York.

 

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