Paid Family Leave: State & Federal Laws Plus How You Can Advocate for the Cancer Community

Did you know that only 16 percent of workers in the U.S. receive paid family leave through their employment? Believe it or not, the United States is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee workers some form of paid leave.

Currently, the only option at the federal level is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires employers in the private sector with 50+ workers to provide their employees with unpaid, job-protected leave in certain situations. Unfortunately, because many employees do not work for private employers with 50 or more employees, many are left without access to any form of leave. Paid family leave laws at the state and/or federal level are long overdue, and would go a long way towards providing much-needed job and financial security protections to workers when they or their family members are facing a serious medical condition.

Over the past few years, the issue of paid family leave has been given more attention, laws have been passed by a few states, and new bills have been introduced at both the state and federal level.

The blog provides an update for the cancer community on what the legal and legislative landscape looks like.

State Laws & Legislation

States with Paid Family Leave Laws

Only six states — California, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Washington — and the District of Columbia have enacted paid family leave programs. Each state's program covers leave to bond with a new child or care for a family member with a serious health condition, such as cancer. Each state varies, however, in the length of their paid family leave programs, in the benefits provided to employees, and in the way these programs are funded.  Here is a brief overview of the length of paid family leave in the states that currently have these programs:

  • California: Qualified employees are entitled to a maximum of 6 weeksof paid family leave.


  • New Jersey: Qualified employees are entitled to a maximum of 6 weeks, increasing to 12 weeksas of 7/1/2020.


  • New York: Qualified employees are entitled to a maximum of 10 weeks in 2019, increasing to 12 weeksin 2021.


  • Rhode Island: Qualified employees are entitled to a maximum of 4 weeks of paid family leave.


  • Massachusetts(effective 1/2021): Once effective, qualified employees will be entitled to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a sick family member


  • Washington(effective 1/2020): Once effective, qualified employees will be entitled to 12 weeks of paid family leave to care for a sick family member.


  • District of Columbia(effective 7/2020): Once effective, qualified employees will be entitled to 6 weeks for family care.


For more information on each state's program, you can refer to the paid family leave column on our chartof state laws, updated as of this month.

States with Pending Legislation for Paid Family Leave

The following states currently have pendinglegislation to enact a paid family leave program: Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia 

States that have failed to pass legislation for Paid Family Leave in recent years:

The following states have introduced legislation to enact a paid family leave program within the last two years, but have not succeeded: Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Utah, and Wisconsin. In these states, at this time, it is unclear if there is a plan to reintroduce these bills.

States with paid parental leave for State employees only:

These states currently provide paid “parental leave” (e.g., paid time off for those who have a new child) only for state employees: Delaware, Kansas, Maryland, and Missouri.  Parental leave is much more limited in its breadth and only provides a benefit to new parents in as compared to more comprehensive family and medical leave programs, which provide benefits to employees at any stage of life when time is needed to care for a sick family member

Remaining States:

The following states currently have only unpaid family leave provided under FMLA:  Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming.  None of these states appear to have undertaken any effort to enact paid family leave legislation.

There are only three other states that do not fall into one of the above-identified categories:

  • Hawaii: Despite some published reports to the contrary, Hawaii has notenacted a paid family leave program. The Governor did, however, approve a bill in 2018 that commissioned a study to assess the viability of a paid family leave program in Hawaii.  The study, as well as any proposed legislation, is to be submitted by September 2019.


  • Oklahoma: Oklahoma has created a paid leave “bank,” where State employees can donate any unused paid leave that they have accrued for others to use. To my knowledge, no other policy or program like Oklahoma's exists in other states. Unfortunately, the “leave bank” program does not apply to those working in the private sector.


  • Michigan: As part of a new law that will go into effect in April 2019, Michigan workers can take and use any paid sick days afforded to them by their employers to care for family members. While this permissive program is better than what many states provide, this is nota paid family leave program and should not be regarded as such since it only applies in those limited circumstances where a private employer affords paid sick leave to its staff.


Federal Legislation

There are currently three main federal proposals to expand family and medical leave benefits:

  • FAMILY Act:Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) reintroduced a bill on 2/12/19, that would create a national paid family and medical leave program.  This bill, called the “Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act” (or “FAMILY Act”), would allow workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a sick family member, to recover from a serious illness, or to take time off during pregnancy or following the birth/adoption of a child. The program would be self-funded through payroll contributions split between employers and employees that amount to roughly the price of a cup of coffee each week. With this fund, employees would be eligible for 66% wage replacement, capped at $4,000 a month. The FAMILY Act builds upon successful statewide paid family leave programs, and would provide protection to those in the cancer community.


  • Marco Rubio's Plan:Marco Rubio introduced legislation in 2018 for a paid parental leave program. Such a program would be funded by allowing new parents to receive Social Security retirement benefits early, in exchange for their willingness to delay receipt of these benefits upon retirement. As noted above, a parental leave policy is great for new parents, but does nothing to address the needs of employees who need time off to care for a family member dealing with a serious health condition, such as cancer.


  • Ivanka Trump's Plan: Similar to Marco Rubio, Ivanka Trump has recently become vocal about introducing paid family leave legislation. (Her father, President Trump, mentioned in his State of the Union address that he is “proud to be the first President to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave, so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child.”) Despite using the broader term of “family leave,” all indications suggest that such a proposal would only cover paid parental leave and would not provide protections to workers to care for their family members with a serious health condition, such as cancer.


  • CRADLE Act: Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and Mike Lee (R-UT) recently introduced a paid parental leave plan called the CRADLE Act, which would allow parents to receive one, two, or three months of paid leave benefits by giving them the option to delay activating their Social Security benefits for two, four, or six months, respectively. This plan bears a close resemblance to Marco Rubio's plan described above, and would not provide paid leave for those caring for family members with cancer.



Cancer does not discriminate and has no particular political affiliation.  It is impossible for anyone to plan for or control whether you or a loved one is diagnosed with cancer and all of the personal and financial hardships that accompany the diagnosis. The financial burden of a cancer diagnosis is heavy for all, even those with wealth or accumulated savings.  But the burden is particularly cruel on the majority of our population who live paycheck-to-paycheck.  This is the reality that has driven efforts to enact paid family leave legislation.

The widespread lack of paid family leave (and the financial hardship created when workers must take a leave of absence from their job to care for a family member) would substantially impact the financial burden of families facing cancer.

Until a paid family leave program is enacted at the federal level, the only protections afforded to workers are found at the state level. From a most basic moral and practical view, where one lives should not determine whether they can have access to paid family leave.

What You Can Do

  • Contact your elected officials at the state and federal level. Even if you know your elected official’s position on paid family leave, it is useful to share your thoughts as one of their constituents.
  • To find your elected officials or learn more about becoming an advocate, visit our Advocacy resource page. You can also find the Facebook and Twitter handles for the current members of Congress here.


Stay tuned to our Blog and sign up for our newsletter, as we will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.

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