Beyond PTO: How to Embrace These 5 Types of Paid Leave

Learn more about what is required, the types of paid leave, and questions you should consider when crafting your leave policies.
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In providing paid leave, employers must balance the needs of their organization, regulatory requirements, and employee wellbeing. State and local legislatures are trying to address gaps in access to paid leave or paid sick leave, creating a complicated matrix of paid leave requirements across the U.S. And reasons for taking paid leave are always evolving, too. For example, New York became the first state to enact a law requiring employers to provide paid prenatal leave. This law, effective January 1, 2025, requires employers of any size to provide 20 hours of paid prenatal leave for healthcare services related to pregnancy. Examples of healthcare services for paid prenatal leave include physical examinations, monitoring and testing, discussions with a healthcare provider, and medical procedures. Expect additional states to follow New York’s lead, as there is greater awareness and understanding for health and medical issues that arise during pregnancy.

Let’s look at paid leave requirements, the types of paid leave, and questions you should consider when crafting your leave policies.  

Paid Family Medical Leave


In the past few years, a growing number of states have passed Paid Family Medical Leave (PFML) laws. PFML is paid time away from work due to circumstances requiring a period of absence longer than what an employer's regular sick-days policies may offer. There are two types of leave that falls under these laws:

  1. Paid Family Leave - taking time off to care for a sick family member or a new child.
  2. Paid Medical Leave - taking time off for one's own serious sickness or injury. 

When a state is considering whether to pass paid family medical leave, the state must consider and answer six questions. 

  1. What are the reasons an employee can take paid leave? 
  2. How long is the period for paid leave? 
  3. What is the benefit amount the employee receives? 
  4. Which employees are eligible for leave?
  5. Who is paying for the leave, employee or employer?
  6. What is the contribution amount from the employee and/or the employer?

Each state can, and many times does, answer each question differently. For example, each PFML program will define ‘family member’ to determine for whom an employee can take leave. The definition of ‘family member’ is not consistent across state lines and states are increasingly defining a family member in a more expansive context. For example, Washington State’s Paid Family Medical Leave Program allows an employee to take leave to care for a family member, which includes, “[s]omeone who has an expectation to rely on you for care—whether you live together or not.” Additionally, New York allows an employee to take paid family medical leave when they have a “in loco parentis” relationship with a child. 

The benefits employees receive under state paid family medical leave laws will vary across state lines. For example, for 2024, an employee in Connecticut can receive up to $941 per week while an employee in Oregon can receive up to $1,523.63 weekly. The most common length of time an employee can take leave is 12 weeks, but Massachusetts allows leave up to 26 weeks.

Because these programs are paid leave programs, states must address who is paying for the benefit. Some states (Connecticut, New York) only require employee contributions, while others (Oregon, Washington, Massachusetts) divide contributory responsibility between the employee and the employer. 

A recent trend for paid family medical leave programs is to have a voluntary program. Vermont, and most recently, Kentucky, have passed voluntary programs. These programs allow but do not require employers to provide paid family medical leave. While voluntary family medical leave programs allow employers to decide whether to offer the benefit, it is unclear how many employers will provide the option and whether these programs will substantially increase the number of employees with access to paid family medical leave. 

Paid Sick Leave


An increasing number of states and local jurisdictions are passing paid sick leave laws, allowing employees to take time off from work to care for themself or a family member. Because these laws are at the state or local level, the requirements will vary by jurisdiction. Currently, almost 20 states have a paid sick leave law. 

Similar to the paid family medical leave programs, employers need to understand the patchwork of paid sick leave laws, including the reasons for which an employee can take leave, the length of paid sick leave available, and the amount of paid sick leave that may carry over, if any, to the following year. 

Employers need to understand the patchwork of paid sick leave laws, including the reasons for which an employee can take leave, the length of paid sick leave available, and the amount of paid sick leave that may carry over, if any, to the following year.

 

 

“Safe time” or “safe leave” is a growing trend within paid sick leave. These provisions allow time off for reasons related to domestic violence or sexual assault. The employee does not need to be injured to take time off, but can also utilize the safe leave for court appearances, counseling, etc. 

For multi-state employers, tracking and ensuring compliance with each paid sick leave law can be burdensome. In drafting your sick leave policies, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Will you have one policy covering all employees, regardless of location, or a location-specific policy?
  • Will employees accrue sick time or will the time be front-loaded?
  • How often should you review your policy with legal counsel to account for new jurisdictional requirements? 

Paid Leave for All


A smaller movement in the paid leave sphere is granting paid leave for any reason; an employee or employee family member does not need to be ill or injured. Currently, three states require employers to provide paid leave for any reason: MaineNevada, and Illinois

Maine, Nevada, and Illinois’s laws are largely similar. Employees can take paid leave for any reason and can use up to 40 hours of earned paid leave each year. Each law also allows for a waiting period before employees can use the paid leave: a 90-day waiting period for Maine and Nevada, and a 120-day waiting period for Illinois. Employers in each of the three states can also decide whether to have employees accrue the hours or front-load them. 

Additional Types of Paid Leave


Many employers will offer types of paid leave to attract job candidates, retain employees, and to foster a healthy and engaged work environment. Employers are increasingly providing leave to allow employees time off to volunteer and to meet their caregiving responsibilities. 

Volunteer Leave

Many organizations are providing employees with the ability to take time off to volunteer. Providing employees with paid time off to volunteer helps increase employee engagement and attract job applicants while also showing your organization’s commitment to supporting your local communities.

When implementing a volunteer leave policy, consider who is eligible (exempt, non-exempt, full-time, part-time employees), the maximum amount of leave available, whether prior approval is required, and examples of which organizations are eligible or not eligible. 

Caregiving Leave

As Washington and New York’s Paid PFML laws show, some states recognize employees as caregivers. Employers are addressing this concern outside of any regulatory requirement by providing employees with caregiving leave. A recent AARP study found 53% of employees aged 40-49 are caregivers for an adult relative (parent, friend, partner or spouse, in-law, or another adult relative). Overall, more than 1 in 5 employees is considered a caregiver for another individual. This responsibility does not escape UKG, whose own workforce has 75% of employees identify as a caregiver, with 28% caregivers for both adults and children and 20% caring for elders

In crafting a caregiving leave policy, ensure the policy is inclusive. Employees with diverse backgrounds may wish to take time off to care for an individual not typically considered a “family member” in a US-centric definition. 

If your organization does not provide caregiving leave, other options include flexible working hours, employee assistance programs, and/or employee-led support groups for caregivers. These benefits demonstrate your commitment to employees' well-being as well as your understanding of their personal responsibilities.

Employer Takeaways


Paid leave is an expansive topic, requiring employers to understand what is legally required and whether added benefits will help their employees. 

  • Have a clear understanding of where your employees are located
  • Review existing leave policies and procedures to determine if they meet minimum legal requirements 
  • Train managers and Human Resources on the laws for each jurisdiction where you have employees working 
  • Regularly consult with your legal counsel to find out whether new states or localities having upcoming leave laws 

 

UKG Ready® Leave Manager helps you streamline the leave administration process by automating the tracking of federal, state, and organization-specific leave policies to ensure fair, consistent enforcement while mitigating compliance risk.