New Rhode Island Law Expands Employer Leave Obligations

With much fanfare, Governor Chafee recently signed the Temporary Caregiver Insurance law. Absent from the press coverage was reference to the fact that the law imposes new obligations on even the smallest Rhode Island employers. Unlike the state and federal medical leave laws, which apply to employers with fifty or more employees, the caregiver law contains no such limitation.

The new law allows employees to take up to four weeks, and calls for TDI benefits to be available to employees to “bond” with a new child or care for a seriously ill child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, or grandparent. In addition, employers must maintain medical insurance for their employee, and the employee can take the leave if he or she is overseas caring for a family member. The law is effective January 1, 2014.

The rationale for mandating that larger employers provide medical leave is the fact that a larger employer can better accommodate absences. That logic was apparently ignored when the new law was passed. The net result may be that even those Rhode Island employers with two or three employees will need to grant so-called “caregiver” leave for up to four weeks and maintain medical insurance (subject to the employer continuing to pay his or her co-payment). During the employee’s absence, he or she will collect TDI benefits. Upon return from the leave, the employer must restore the employee to his or her former position or an equivalent position. (In addition, the law requires employers to provide every new employee hired after January 1, 2014 with notice of the law and to all existing employees taking leave due to pregnancy or providing care for family members.)

For employers subject to family medical leave because they employ fifty or more employees, the law has the potential to extend leave obligations. For example, an employee could take four weeks to “bond” with a child and later in the year take 13 weeks of FMLA leave to care for an ill family member.

The law and the lobbying effort that resulted in its passage are part and parcel of an effort by labor and various allied groups to impose paid sick leave mandates on employers. Those efforts have enjoyed limited success in a small number of cities across America. The state of Connecticut, in fact, mandates paid sick leave currently. Because Rhode Island has the TDI program in place, grafting a paid leave component onto the existing law was a relatively simple step. For some small Rhode Island employers, this law may be one challenge.


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