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California’s Expanded Paid Family Leave


Taking Care of Families: California’s Expanded Paid Family Leave

Fifteen years ago, California became the first state in the nation to guarantee workers paid time off to care for a new baby or a sick family member. Since that time, we have been joined only by New Jersey and Rhode Island, which now have similar paid programs. Unfortunately, plenty of people still don’t know about California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL).

You should – you may need it someday! 

California’s original 2004 law entitled workers up to 55% of their current earning (maximum $1075/week) for up to six weeks to care for a new baby (including foster or adoption) or sick child, spouse, parent, or registered domestic partner. In 2013, PFL was extended to those caring for a seriously ill parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild or sibling. This means that even more people are eligible for up to six weeks of wage replacement.

The good news is that the law keeps getting better and better.

On April 11, 2016, Governor Jerry Brown signed yet another expansion of California’s PFL. Starting in 2018, the new law increases the amount of income reimbursement for our lowest wage earners. Employees making the least amount of money may be eligible for up to 70% of their earnings, and and those that earn up to $108,000 per year can get up to 60% of their earnings. 

The key is that you have to have been paying the California State Disability tax (SDI) in the eighteen months before you need to take leave. The amount you will receive is determined by your employment in the period between 5 and 18 months before you apply to the program. 

It is important to note that you do not have to take the six weeks of leave consecutively – you can take it hourly, daily, weekly etc. This means you could potentially take one day off a week for over six months to take care of a new baby or an ailing parent or even one hour per day for the entire year to take him or her to appointments (and be reimbursed for your time).

Please be clear that PFL for a new baby applies not just to new moms but new dads too.

It is also important to know that multiple workers may take PFL to provide care or comfort, or even to supervise care, for the same family member. In a 24-hour period, up to three people who are able and available to provide care for the same care recipient may receive benefits. So you don’t have to fight over the pot of money with your siblings!

By law, employers can require you to take earned time off (PTO or vacation time) up to two weeks before you can use PFL, though not all employers do.

It is important to note that PFL does not guarantee protection of your job during the time you are caring for a family member; however, many people are guaranteed protection and/or additional pay under a few related laws. 

• The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Exemptions may apply for small companies

• The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) guarantees an employer maintain an employee’s benefits AND return to the same job (of note, this law applies to companies with 50 or more people, you have to have worked for at least 12 months with your current employer and at least 1250 hours during those 12 months).

• California Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) law allows for disability pay four weeks before a woman’s due date and six weeks after for routine vaginal delivery (eight weeks for cesarean section).

While none of this comes even close to some laws in Europe and many other parts of the world – e.g. the UK paid family leave is 280 days (90% pay for the first six weeks), the Netherlands is 112 days (100% pay), India is 84 days (100% pay), in France women get 100% for 16 weeks – it’s better than any other state in the nation.

But, bring the heat on. Last month, New York City passed a law increasing paid  time from six to 12 weeks. One week later, San Francisco passed a city-wide ordinance requiring businesses to pay employee’s full salary for six weeks.  

What’s next?