California’s Paid Family Leave Law (PFL) was the first in the country to provide partial wage replacement to employees who had to take time off work to care for seriously ill family members or to bond with newborns or adopted children. Paid Family Leave provides up to six weeks of partial wage replacement benefits in a 12-month period. However, current law narrows the definition of “family” to include only parents, children, spouse, or registered domestic partner. In fact, a Senate Office of Research study found that California’s Employment Development Department rejects about 10 percent of Paid Family Leave claims because the employee sought leave to care for an excluded family member.
Multigenerational, non-traditional families are common in California today, particularly in low-income and minority communities. Thus, broadening the narrow PFL definition of family member is necessary to reflect the real structure of today’s families, so that more workers will be able to take leave to care for their loved ones.
Thankfully, beginning July 1, 2014, California’s Paid Family Leave Law will now recognize other close family members, namely, grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and parents-in-law, as “family,” and California employees will be allowed to receive Paid Family Leave benefits while taking care of seriously ill grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and parents-in-law. This measure, SB 770, was signed by Governor Brown on September 24, 2013 and authored by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). By expanding the definition of “family” to accurately reflect the actual caregiving obligations of Californians, more workers can access the benefit that is funded entirely by their own payroll deductions. Specifically, Paid Family Leave provides benefits of approximately 55 percent of lost wages.
The expansion of the Paid Family Leave accounts for the changing population of California, where residents over the age of 55 will increase by 70 percent in the next decade. Due to our aging state, working families will have an increasing responsibility to care for seniors, such as grandparents and parents-in-law.
Employees should be mindful that although Paid Family Leave provides a financial safety-net for eligible workers, it does not provide job protection or return rights. Job protection may be provided if your employer is subject to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Thus, employees should notify their employer of the reason for taking leave in a manner consistent with the company’s leave policy.
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