On July 11, 2013, Governor Lincoln Chafee signed into law a bill that provides employees with up to four weeks of paid leave per year to care for a new child or a sick family member. The law’s stated purpose is to establish “a temporary caregiver insurance program to provide wage replacement benefits … to workers who take time off work to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, or to bond with a new child.” In passing this heavily-debated legislation, Rhode Island joins California and New Jersey as the only states in the country to offer paid family leave to covered employees.
The new law expands Rhode Island’s temporary disability insurance (TDI) program -- which covers employees who need time off for their own non-work-related illness or injury -- to provide paid leave to workers who take time off work to care for a family member with a serious health condition or to bond with a new child. Rhode Island employees currently pay a 1.2% tax on the first $61,400 of income to finance the TDI program, resulting in a maximum annual contribution of $736.80. Weekly TDI benefits total approximately 60% of an employee’s weekly wage, up to a maximum weekly benefit of $752. Beginning January 1, 2014, private-sector employees may collect these temporary caregiver benefits for a maximum of four weeks within a twelve-month period. Public-sector employees do not pay the TDI tax, and, therefore, will not be eligible for these new benefits.
The Department of Labor and Training, which oversees the current TDI program, will also be responsible for administering the new law. Employees seeking temporary caregiver benefits must give at least 30 days prior notice, unless unforeseeable circumstances prevent prior notice. Leave taken to bond with a newborn child or newly-adopted child must be taken during the first twelve months after the child’s birth or adoptive placement.
Under the new law, an employer can require an employee to take leave concurrently with any leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and/or the Rhode Island Parental and Family Medical Leave Act (RIPFMLA). Like the FMLA and RIPFMLA, the new law requires an employee, upon his or her return from leave, to be restored to the same position, or to a position with equivalent seniority, status, salary, and benefits to that which employee held at the commencement of leave. The law also requires employers to maintain any existing health benefits for the duration of the employee’s leave, provided that the employee continues to contribute to the cost of the insurance as required prior to commencing leave.
The new law allows an employee to take leave to care for a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law or grandparent who has a serious medical condition, which is “any illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves impatient care in a hospital, hospice, residential health care facility, or continued treatment or continued supervision by a licensed health care provider.” The law also provides that a “biological or legal relationship shall not be required,” and covers “persons who stand in loco parentis,” meaning “those with day-to-day responsibilities to care for and financially support a child.” A “child” under the new law means a biological, adopted or foster child, a stepchild, a legal ward of a covered individual, a child of a domestic partner, or a child over whom an employee stands in loco parentis.
Rhode Island employers are strongly advised to examine their current leave policies to ensure that they are compliant with their obligations under the new law. Employers also need to be prepared for questions from employees about their rights under this law.