Coming Soon: Renewed Confusion Over California Paid Family Leave Benefits Law
In 2004, California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) law took effect. This law provides wage replacement benefits from the state disability insurance program for employees who take a leave of absence to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, or domestic partner, or to bond with a minor child within one year of the birth or placement of the child. An eligible employee qualifies for up to six weeks of benefits.
In passing this law the Legislature recognized that while the federal Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) provide eligible employees the right to take leave for the reasons noted above, many employees could not afford to take such leave because these laws provide only a right to unpaid leave. (Cal. Unemployment Insurance Code § 3300(d),(f).) By providing wage replacement benefits, the Legislature hoped to encourage employees who could not otherwise afford to take an unpaid leave to take advantage of the leave available to them. (Id. at § 3300(g).)
The PFL caused (and continues) to cause confusion for many employers and employees. Although its name suggests it provides a right to paid leave, the law actually provides no leave entitlement at all. It merely provides a source of wage replacement benefits for employees who qualify for leave under the FMLA, the CFRA or the employer’s leave policies.
Recent amendments to the PFL that take effect on July 1, 2014, will likely renew the confusion that initially followed its enactment in 2004 and will provide little actual benefit to most employees. The amendments broaden the scope of covered family members to include grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings. (Cal. Unemployment Insurance Code § 3302(g),(h),(l).) So beginning July 1, 2014, an employee who takes a leave of absence to care for a seriously ill child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling may qualify for PFL benefits. The amendments provide no leave entitlement. And because neither the FMLA nor the CFRA provides a right to leave to care for a seriously ill grandparent, grandchild, or sibling, the amendments to the PFL may provide little actual benefit. Unless the company for which an employee works has a policy allowing leave to care for these family members, the employee may have a statutory right to benefits during a leave that he or she will have no right to take.