California Extends Employee Benefits Under its Paid Family Leave Law

Responding to the needs of the current workforce, California recently expanded its family temporary disability benefits to offer broader protections than the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Governor Jerry Brown recently signed (“SB”) 770, extending the protections provided by the California’s 2002 paid family leave legislation, the California Family Rights Act, which closely resembled the FMLA.

While the FMLA requires employers with 50 employees are required to allow employees who have worked for the company for one year to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave to attend serious health issues. These health issues include leave to care for a new child, parent or spouse. The federal law also requires employers to keep the health insurance of these employees
The California 2002 family leave law established a state fund to replace 55 percent of the wages of employees while they took leave to care for a newly born or adopted child, or seriously ill relatives, including children, spouses, parents or domestic partners. This fund for paid family leave functions similarly to a state disability insurance; the cost of the benefit is covered through deductions from employees’ paychecks. Expanding these protections, the newly enacted law will allow employees to also collect partial wages while taking leave to care for seriously ill grandparents, siblings, grandchildren and parents-in-laws. Furthermore, these protections are extended for same-sex spouses and domestic partners, as well as their children, siblings, grandparents and parents-in-law. The law also offers up to six weeks of temporary disability insurance benefits within one year. Employees are required to provide a doctor’s note stating that they will be taking time off to bond with a new child or care for a sick relative.

The state of California requires employers to reasonably accommodate employees for disabilities as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, to accommodate for family needs, the state’s Small Necessities laws require employers with a minimum of 25 employees to offer their workers 40 hours of unpaid leave per year to allow employees to participate in their children’s school activities. Also, the state requires employers with at least 25 employees to provide workers with 10 days of unpaid leave while a spouse is on military leave during a time of military conflict.

Despite these broad protections, critics state that many workers are not aware about the state’s Paid Family Leave. According to a California Field poll taken in 2011, fewer than 45 percent of workers were aware of the program. Furthermore, the California Paid Family Leave program does not protect the employee’s job or return rights. These shortcomings in the law may motivate employees to resign their job out of fear of making their employer dissatisfied. Critics also emphasize the fact that women are often disproportionally affected by a lack of appropriate protections under family leave.

If you believe you are entitled to medical leave, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.