Monday, 30 September 2002 17:00

CA to provide paid family leave benefits from SDI

California Gov. Gray Davis signed on Sept. 23 the nation's first family leave bill, providing benefits for up to six weeks a year payable from the state disability insurance program to workers who must care for sick family members - children, spouses, parents and, in the case of gay couples, domestic partners. The family leave can also be taken to "bond" with newborn children, newly adopted children and new foster children. 

Current State and Federal law already provides 12 weeks of job protection for unpaid leave taken for births and family sick care, but most small businesses (50 or less employees under "California's Family Rights Act") are exempted; no business is exempted under the new disability program, and the tax-free benefits are up to 55% of weekly salary, capped at $728 a week. The program will be funded by additional disability deductions from employee pay checks, up to $70 annually depending on the employee's salary. There is no employer contribution.

Original bill was 12 weeks

Davis, signing the bill introduced by State Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), said, "I don't want parents in California to have to choose between being a good parent and a good employee." The bill was hailed by labor leaders who had lobbied hard for its passage, and assailed by business groups that said it would fall hardest on small businesses that must bear the cost of hiring and training temporary help to replace the employee who takes unplanned family leave. The bill was originally introduced by Sen. Kuehl to provide for 12 weeks of leave but reduced to six weeks by amendment in the State Assembly.

Part-time, temp workers included

All employees, including part-time and temporary workers, will be allowed to apply for family leave disability payments after they have satisfied a seven day "waiting period"; therefore, they would have to be off work for seven weeks, one without pay and then seven with the disability payment, to take advantage of the maximum benefit. Employers will also be able to require that if the employee has earned vacation time but not taken it, then up to two weeks of the vacation time must be used before the disability benefits are payable. The vacation time would count towards the seven day waiting period.

Current law exempted small business

Current federal and California state laws provide that eligible employees can take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid family leave per year with their jobs being protected; the new family care paid leave of six weeks would run concurrently with the 12 workweek period; it does not extend that period. The California law providing job protection for 12 workweeks only applies to employers with 50 or more employees (thus exempting most body shops) and provides that the employee must have worked for the employer at least 12 months before beginning the unpaid leave; the employer must continue health insurance and other benefits during the unpaid leave.

Doctors certification required

For the new disability payment program, the State will require a physician's certification if the family leave is taken to care for someone who is sick, while other certification will be required for a new child. Caring for a family member does not require hands-on care but will include providing "psychological comfort" and arranging for third party care. Also, if another family member is available to provide the care, then the employee will not be eligible for benefits; hence, if a mother takes off to care for a child, a father could not apply for benefits at the same time.

The family care act will become effective on January 1, 2004 for the purpose of payroll deductions; paid leave will begin on July 1, 2004.