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New Yorkers May Not Know They Qualify For Paid Leave

Host Intro: New Yorkers now have more options when dealing with the birth of a child or caring for a sick family member. Governor Cuomo signed a law last week that requires employers to give 12 paid weeks and set up a tax to fund it. The law will go into effect in January 2018. As Henriette Chacar reports, advocates say now the next level of work is beginning. (00:19)

Inneshia Hart has been supporting paid family leave for years. In fact, it’s what got her the job she has now at 1199, a union for healthcare workers, where I meet her during her lunch break.

Sound from restaurant

Four years ago, Inneshia worked as a home health aide for a big organization. When she was pregnant with her second child, she worked till the very last minute.

HART 1: I can’t afford to stop work. So I work up to full term, I’ll push my body until I couldn’t go anymore.   

When she went to talk to human resources about her maternity leave, they said as long as she filled out the paperwork, she could get 12 weeks, unpaid. Problem was…

HART 2: The paperwork never reached my house.

Inneshia feared she’d lose her job, so she went back to work three weeks after giving birth.

HART 3: Which is devastating to a mother and a child. I was in depression. I was in pain. But I had to choose — who would’ve paid my bills for me?

Soon, Inneshia — or anyone who has to care for a relative or a baby — won’t have to make that choice.

Eric Williams is the director of the New York-based paid family leave campaign. He says legislation is not enough to make sure that workers actually know their rights.

WILLIAMS 1: A lot of people don’t think about paid family leave until they’re about to start a family or until they have a seriously ill family member, and that’s when the lightbulb goes off.

In the coming months, the campaign will work with agencies to train HR people on the rules,  including the fact that New York added something extra —  a guarantee that using the leave won’t cost employees their job.

WILLIAMS 2: How much time are you going to take off for the birth of a new child if you’re not sure you’ll have a job to come back to?

As much as this policy is a great win, it’s only the first round.

LEVS 1: The most important thing is for companies to make sure that they establish not only great policies, but also better cultures.

This is Josh Levs, the author of All In — a book about how work culture in the U.S. fails    dads, families and businesses. He wasn’t entitled for paternity leave when he was working at CNN, but he asked for one anyway. Even after his daughter was born prematurely, he still didn’t know whether his leave was approved.

LEVS 2: 11 days later I was home holding my four pound preemie and caring for my sick wife and my two boys and that’s when work said no.

Ten months ago Josh started a petition to push for paid family leave on the federal level. He hopes this will get businesses everywhere, not only in New York, to encourage their employees to actually take the time off. The United States is the only industrial country that doesn’t offer paid leave.

LEVS 3 : You know, workers in this country have forgotten that they have rights. They have the right to ask for better policies and they don’t know that they have the right to take legal action.

Levs and other advocates say that now that family leave passed in New York, it’s imperative that people use it. They hope it will encourage other states to recognize its value and maybe even lead to broader discussion about work culture.

Henriette Chacar, Columbia Radio News.

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