WXXI AM News

Local TV anchor champions paid bereavement leave for New Yorkers

Jun 21, 2018

Credit Jennifer Johnson

New York's paid family leave law is expanding.

Starting in 2020, employees who lose a family member such as a child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner, will be eligible to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave from their job.

Jennifer Johnson, an anchor and reporter at WHAM TV, advocated for the new law.

She said she experienced crushing grief when her daughter, Grace, died five years ago.

"I know if my own personal situation, I lost a lot of weight after my daughter died, in part, because I forgot to eat,” she said. “Your mind just does not function the same after such a traumatic loss. To be ordered back to work doesn't seem right."

Johnson said there were negotiations with groups representing small businesses that are more likely to feel the temporary loss of an employee. They settled on 12 weeks of paid leave if a worker's spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child dies.

"And it can be right away...you can do it a few days here, a few days there. What doctors and therapists will tell you after you have suffered a great loss is to make sure you're journaling and doing yoga and maybe you're seeing a therapist. Often, if you're a working parent, there isn't enough time in the day to do that."

Senator Rich Funke argued in favor of expanding New York's paid family leave program to include bereavement time. Funke's son, Rich Jr., died in 2001

"I went back to work right away,” Senator Funke said on the floor of the Senate Wednesday. “I tried to be strong for my family at the time, and that's how I thought I was going to get through this. About a month later, I was crushed by the emotion of it all. This amendment is going to give people the time and flexibility they need to grieve."

New York’s paid family leave program, which was enacted in January 2018, is funded through deductions taken from workers’ paychecks. The expansion will go into effect on January 21, 2020 to allow for more time for the fund to grow.

The new law is awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature.