Connecticut Rolls Out Family and Medical Leave Program
HARTFORD, Conn. — On Dec. 1, Connecticut began accepting applications from residents who want to participate in the state’s new paid family and medical leave program. Claims are being accepted for qualifying events that are happening on or after Jan. 1, 2022.
Under the program, workers will gain access to the necessary benefits that allow them to take time off work to care for their own health, a newborn child or a sick family member. Eligible workers can receive up to 12 weeks of income replacement for qualifying events.
“We have not experienced any major issues in our roll out thus far. We wanted to ensure a smooth launch, so our system was tested extensively prior to opening for applications and it can handle up to 25,000 users at one time,” said Andrea Barton Reeves, CEO of the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority, in an email to The Well News.
Connecticut is only the eighth state in the nation to enact a paid family and medical leave program.
The Connecticut Campaign for Paid Family Leave, a coalition of 65 organizations and 100 small businesses and led by the Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund, has been fighting for paid leave since 2012.
“There was definitely a need before the pandemic, and in fact the bill was signed into law in June 2019 before the pandemic began. However, I do think that COVID-19 solidified the need for the program. We saw that anyone, even the healthiest among us, can be struck with a serious illness at any time,” said Reeves.
Reeves and other members from the Connecticut Paid Leave Authority have been spreading awareness of the program through radio campaigns, billboards on major state highways, posters in train stations, targeted publications and hosting over 30 webinars in the past three months.
A majority of businesses in Connecticut are considered covered employers and their employees are eligible to submit an application for paid leave if they have worked for at least 12 weeks preceding their leave and have earned a minimum of $2,325 in the base period of work.
“There is no requirement that the employee lives in Connecticut, so for remote workers, if the company they work for is a covered employer under the statute, then they would qualify provided they meet the other requirements,” said Reeves.
Under the paid leave program, an employee can only request time off in particular circumstances, such as caring for a new child whether through birth, adoption or foster, caring for a personal health condition, caring for a family member with a serious health condition, needing time off to serve as an organ or bone marrow donor or in certain circumstances relating to a family member on active duty.
“In addition, Connecticut also has a provision for family violence leave. A victim of family violence can apply for and receive … paid leave benefits for issues related to the family violence, such as seeking medical or psychological care, relocating, attending court proceedings arising from the family violence, or seeking services from a victim services organization,” said Reeves.
Reeves said currently Connecticut and New Jersey are the only states to offer the provision for family violence leave and, that while most states are funded by employer and employee contributions, Connecticut’s program is solely employee funded.
“There is a payroll deduction of 0.5% which employers deduct from employee paychecks and remit quarterly to the CT Paid Leave Authority,” said Reeves.
At the start of this year, employers began deducting contributions from workers’ wages, and as of Dec. 1, employees could begin submitting claims for paid leave to Aflac or through the paid leave website.
After Jan 1. 2022, an eligibility decision will be determined by Aflac based on an employees’ earnings and other submitted documentation.
“We received over 500 applications on Dec. 1, the first day that we opened our online portal and phone lines to accept applications. I think that is a great indicator of success and of the need for this program for the working families in our state,” said Reeves.
The weekly benefits that the employee can receive will be calculated and issued electronically or on value cards every two weeks and the benefit payment each eligible employee will receive is 95% of their weekly base earnings.
“What we hear more commonly from businesses, particularly small businesses, is that paid leave is a benefit that they would never be able to provide to their employees on their own due to affordability, and in fact many feel that it makes them more competitive with larger employers. Additionally, it helps them retain talented workers,” said Reeves.
According to Reeves, a poll published in April 2019, just two months before paid leave was signed into law in Connecticut, showed that 88% of Connecticut residents were in favor of paid leave.
“We certainly know and expect that there may be some bumps in the road, there always are with a new program, especially one of this magnitude,” said Reeves.
“The existence of the paid leave program in Connecticut will mean that working families do not have to make the choice between their health, or being there for a family member, and earning a paycheck,” continued Reeves.
Alexa Hornbeck can be reached at [email protected]