January 23, 2023

Legislators hope to pass Paid Family Medical Leave Act in this year’s session

Kendra Chamberlain

The Paid Family and Medical Leave bill seeks to provide up to 12 weeks of paid time off for employees who request it for a serious medical condition, caring for a family member with a serious medical condition or welcoming a new child. If the bill is enacted, it will be a state-run program and will be managed by the Department of Workforce Solutions.

Both employees and some employers will contribute to a state-managed fund that will, in time, pay for itself and provide the funds necessary to pay workers a portion of their wages if they require paid time off for family or medical leave. The cost to employers would be about $4 for every $1,000 of wages while the cost for employees would be $5 for every $1,000 of wages.

The formula for benefits is 100 percent of minimum wage plus 67 percent of wages above minimum wage, Tracy McDaniel, policy advocate for Southwest Women’s Law Center, said.

State Senate President Pro Tempore Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, is the primary sponsor.

“The time has come for New Mexico to get this bill passed and join the eleven other states with paid family and medical leave. We’ve worked together with the business community to ensure that their concerns over timing and the impact on small businesses have been addressed, and now have a proposal I believe will benefit everyone. With paid family and medical leave in place, more people will stay employed, productivity and workplace safety will improve, and better economic security for more workers and communities throughout the state will come as a result,” Stewart said by email.

The bill has been heard in the Legislature before but faced opposition. In 2022, the Legislature passed a memorial that enabled the Department of Workforce Solutions to convene a panel of various stakeholders to work out compromises on what the bill would include.

The 2023 version of the bill includes compromises worked out through that process. One of the changes to this year’s bill is that it adds new causes for taking up to 12 weeks of paid leave: bereavement for the death of a child and domestic violence, stalking and sexual assault, McDaniel, said.

Another change, and a concession to the business community, is a minimum of four hours for intermittent leave. So if an employee wants to take Paid Family and Medical Leave time off the shortest amount of time an employee can take is four hours a day.

This rule is to reduce the amount of administrative burden for the Department of Workforce Solutions, McDaniel said.

Part of the reason for this change is that the federal Paid Family and Medical Leave law allows an employee to take as little as 15 minutes of time off, McDaniel said.

She said some potential reasons for short amounts of time off could be for ongoing chemotherapy treatments or taking a parent to a medical appointment.

Another concession in this new version of the bill is that it allows small businesses with fewer than five employees to opt out of making contributions, although the employees of those businesses would contribute into the state-managed fund.

McDaniel said that means that 66 percent of all businesses in New Mexico will be able to opt out of paying into the fund.

“But it doesn’t affect the fund as much as it sounds like it would,” McDaniel said.

That’s because only 9 percent of employees in New Mexico work for small businesses with five or fewer employees.

“So that makes a big difference; 91 percent of all participants will have that full employer and employee contribution,” McDaniel said.

One benefit of the bill is that it has the potential, if enacted, to increase maternal work force participation, McDaniel said.

“For women up to five years after a birth, there is an increase in participation for women in the workforce when they have access to paid family and medical leave,” McDaniel said.

One of the concerns brought up when the bill was heard in prior Legislatures was how much time the Department of Workforce Solutions would need to get ready to administer the program. McDaniel said that, for this reason, full implementation would not take place until January 1, 2026.

“That gives them three years to be fully operational. It’s ample time for the recruiting and training of staff,” McDaniel said.

Another concession to the business community is that the new version of the bill states that employees must have 90 days of employment before the law, if enacted, would provide job protection, McDaniel said. So, for instance, if a person begins a new job and is in a serious accident and requires paid family and medical leave immediately, they would still be able to access the fund but would not necessarily return to the job or equivalent employment, McDaniel said.

Federal employees and state employees are both offered paid parental leave benefits, but that is separate from the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. FMLA provides unpaid leave to employees who work for employers, whether public or private, with at least 50 employees with stipulations related to length of employment and number of hours worked annually. Only 4 percent of New Mexico employers have more than 50 employees, so most employees in New Mexico lack access to unpaid leave, McDaniel said.