Mandatory Family Leave Is Growing in the U.S.
Workspan Daily
March 15, 2023
Key Takeaways

  • More states are adding paid family leave laws. California became the first state to require paid family leave in 2004, and in the intervening years more states have jumped on the bandwagon. Following California’s lead, 13 more states and the District of Columbia have enacted paid family leave laws. 
  • 2023 is especially active. This year, new paid leave laws are taking effect in Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire and Oregon. 
  • Compliance is a challenge. Employers cannot easily craft a one-size-fits-all paid family leave policy that complies with all the intricacies of each state’s law. 
  • Practical applications. In light of these new state laws, many employers should create written leave policies. This advice applies to multi-state employers, as well as those that hire remote workers operating across state lines. 

While there is no national mandate for paid family leave in the United States, more states are passing laws requiring that employers provide this leave.  

As a result, employers — especially those operating in multiple states or hiring people who work remotely in different states — may face increasing pressure to add this benefit and update their leave policies.   

A Growing Groundswell  

California became the first state to require paid family leave in 2004, and in the intervening years more states have jumped on the bandwagon. Following California’s lead, 13 more states and the District of Columbia have enacted paid family leave laws, according to the Bipartisan Policy Center.   

This year, new paid leave laws are taking effect in Colorado, Maryland, New Hampshire and Oregon. In 2024, a recently passed bill would take effect in Illinois (it currently awaits Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature), and in 2025 Delaware will require paid leave.  

The states with paid family leave already in place include California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Virginia and Washington. 

The trend is not slowing down, with more states likely to follow suit. “We do expect to see additional states pass paid family and medical leave laws, unless and until we see a federal paid family leave law pass,” said Emily Cuneo DeSmedt, a Princeton, New Jersey-based partner with Morgan Lewis, a law firm with offices worldwide.  

Amy Beacom, founder and CEO of the Center for Parental Leave Leadership, agreed that more state laws are on the way. She noted that 19 more states have active efforts underway to pass paid leave.  

“Employers should expect this trend to continue,” said Beacom. “In the absence of a federal paid leave law being passed as part of the Build Back Better Act, states are being forced to start or revisit efforts to pass leave at the state level.” 

Compliance Is a Challenge  

Keeping up with this growing patchwork of state and local paid family leave laws will remain challenging for employers, said Cuneo DeSmedt, mainly because the laws already on the books vary significantly from one jurisdiction to the next.    

Cuneo DeSmedt said employers cannot easily craft a one-size-fits-all paid family leave policy that complies with all the intricacies of each state’s law. She explained that the laws largely operate as wage insurance programs to which employees and/or employers contribute, but they vary significantly in terms of: 

  • How they define family members. 
  • How much paid leave they provide. 
  • Whether and how employees may use paid leave intermittently. 
  • Who distributes the benefits.   

In addition, some state laws provide job protection to employees, requiring reinstatement at the conclusion of leave and presumption of retaliation if an employee is separated while on leave, whereas other state laws do not.   

Cuneo DeSmedt added that it’s impractical to remember all the ins and outs of every requirement in every jurisdiction, or to maintain an up-to-date list of the most detailed paid leave resources/FAQs and agency guidance. If rewards and HR professionals encounter situations that are unclear, she suggested contacting legal counsel or the state for clarification.   

Practical Applications 

In light of these new state laws, many employers should create written leave policies. This advice applies to multi-state employers, as well as those that hire remote workers operating across state lines.  

“Forward thinking employers are considering the details of their leave policies while also mapping solutions that address the compliance challenges this patchwork of policies, changing demographics, and varying expectations create,” Cuneo DeSmedt said.  

Beacom added that employers can benefit from going beyond simple policy creation to include thoughtful elements that support organizational priorities. For example, paid family leave “can be a profound personal and professional development opportunity for all involved — managers, teams, expecting and new parents, even leadership and HR,” she said.  

Ultimately, employer provided leave support can be an unsurpassed experiential learning time, Beacom said, one in which “we can find the opportunities for integrated training on a variety of vital leadership skills.” 

On a more granular level, Cuneo DeSmedt suggested that, to the extent employers consider implementing or expanding paid parental leave for employees, they designate one bucket of paid leave for postpartum recovery and a separate bucket of paid leave for child bonding — as opposed to primary and secondary caregiver leave.  

Doing so will better position employers to coordinate their paid leave obligations. “That’s a solid strategy because paid state leave benefits are generally designated that same way,” she said. 

Editor's Note: Additional Content 

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