The Paid Family Leave Law in California that Nobody Knows About

Perhaps you haven’t heard about it but the state of California pays employees for up to six weeks of family leave to care for a sick family member or to bond with a new baby. The Paid Family Leave Law was originally passed in 2002 and took effect on July 1, 2004. But according to a 2005 survey, only 29% of respondents were aware of the law. I only recently found out about it after my son was born.

I knew about taking advantage of the temporary disability program but not about paid family leave until my husband requested time off from work to help with the baby. I read the papers, I watch the news, CNN.com is my home page on my computer with links to local news pages as well. Apparently I missed the press release when this law passed and when it came into effect.

My husband could have used his vacation time as he did when our daughter was born in 2000 but human resources told him paid family leave was available. The HR rep failed to tell him it was through the state of California however. She gave him the forms the company required but didn’t direct him to pursue the Paid Family Leave Law for pay during his leave of absence. When he didn’t receive his regular paycheck he asked the human resources rep about his leave of absence pay and she finally told him about the Paid Family Leave Law that California offers.

The human resources rep at my work didn’t tell me about California’s Paid Family Leave Program either. When I inquired about the company’s maternity leave plan I found out that I was not eligible because I work part-time. At this point he could’ve added, “But you can receive pay through California’s Paid Family Leave Law.” Perhaps he missed the press release too.

I found the website at http://www.paidfamilyleave.org where I was able to request an application. Why you can’t just download an application is a mystery. Instead, you must request one and they will mail it to you. The application arrived a few days later in the mail along with instructions on how to apply for paid family leave. Since the request was for my husband to bond with our newborn, I didn’t need a doctor’s signature. Instead, I just needed to fill out the form and send along a copy of the baby’s birth certificate, hospital discharge papers or some other proof of the baby’s birth date.

I also found out that after my pregnancy disability period is over, I may be eligible for paid family leave thus extending my maternity leave. Apparently, once the disability period ends, California’s Employment Development Department automatically send the mother an application for paid family leave. Another mystery – why don’t they send the forms during the disability so that the mothers can fill out the paperwork and communicate with their employers that they will be taking a few extra weeks off well before the fact?

Paid family leave only replaces 55% of income and is maxed out at $840 per week as of 2006. The first seven days are forfeited meaning you don’t get paid for the first seven days of paid family leave. In addition, any paid family leave income is taxed by the federal government but not the state.

In my husband’s case, he would’ve been better off financially to have taken vacation pay instead of taking a leave of absence and using the Paid Family Leave Program. Not only will one week be unpaid, but all of his payroll deductions (for health insurance, retirement, car payment, savings, etc.) will need to be made up with future deductions or by writing a check.

In my case, I was planning on taking a few extra weeks off, unpaid, so that I could extend my maternity leave until school starts in the fall. The partial income I will receive from the Paid Family Leave Law will definitely help during that time and I may be able to take more time off than I originally planned.

While the program is far from perfect, it is a step in the right direction and is ground breaking. California is the first state with a program of this sort. California’s Paid Family Leave is funded entirely by employees through a small increase in their SDI deductions. Any employee who pays into the SDI program is eligible for benefits even if they are not U.S. citizens.

The main problem facing the Paid Family Leave Program in my opinion is lack of awareness. If you know any Californian who needs time off to care for a loved one or bond with a new child, be sure to tell them about California’s Paid Family Leave Law. Chances are, it will be news to them.

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