Joining a steadily growing national trend, the Connecticut Legislature recently passed a generous paid family and medical leave bill, which will make Connecticut the seventh state — in addition to California, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Washington, not to mention the District of Columbia — to offer paid family leave.

Assuming the bill is signed into law, Connecticut employees will be eligible for 12 weeks of paid time over a 12-month period for reasons allowed under Connecticut’s Family Medical and Leave Act (FMLA). An additional two weeks of leave will be available for serious health conditions resulting in incapacitation during pregnancy.

The benefit, which will be available to employees beginning on Jan. 1, 2022, will be funded by a 0.5 percent employee payroll tax beginning on Jan. 1, 2021. The benefit will provide wage replacement capped at up to 60 times the state’s minimum wage. As of Jan. 1, 2022, when the state’s minimum wage will be $13 per hour, the maximum benefit will be about $780 per week.

The Connecticut law is in line with neighboring New York’s and New Jersey’s recently adopted paid leave policies. Currently, New York’s Paid Family Leave Law offers 10 weeks of paid leave, capped at 55 percent of the statewide average weekly wage, which is about $746 per week. The New Jersey Family Leave Act now offers six weeks of paid leave, capped at 53 percent of the statewide average weekly wage, which is about $633 per week. Beginning in July 2020, this will extend to 12 weeks of paid leave, capped at 70 percent of the statewide average weekly wage, which will be about $860 per week.

In addition to the creation of paid family leave, the law will also expand Connecticut’s existing FMLA coverage by a significant margin. For example, by Jan. 1, 2022, it will extend the current FMLA coverage to care for a spouse, children or parents to include coverage for siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and “anyone else related by blood or affinity whose close association the employee shows to be the equivalent of those family relationships.” To the extent this new, expansive addition to the definition is ambiguous, the Connecticut Department of Labor is expected to provide guidelines regarding this standard on or before Jan. 1, 2022.

Finally, and perhaps most important, the bill adjusts and lowers several FMLA thresholds. First, it expands FMLA coverage to include private-sector employers with at least one employee, as compared to 75 employees, and lowers the eligibility requirements from only three months of employment earning at least $2,325 in a “base period,” as compared to 12 months of employment and 1,000 hours worked. The bill also changes the amount of total leave available, from 16 weeks in a 24-month period to 12 weeks in a 12-month period. These three relatively straightforward changes to the law could have sweeping consequences, particularly for small employers that have previously not had to address the questions and record-keeping associated with FMLA leave.

Although these changes will not go into effect until at least 2021, when employee payroll tax contributions are set to begin, Connecticut employers should prepare to implement this new law and update their existing policies. If you have any questions about or need help with this new law, our team would be happy to assist.