California Paid Family Leave Act
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If you need to take time off work to care for a sick family member, California’s new Paid Family Leave Act is something you need to be aware of.
As a resident of California, you’re entitled to benefits for certain circumstances and life events. What does the California Paid Family Leave Act cover, and are you eligible?
In this post, we’ll tell you everything you need to know.
Also known as the Family Temporary Disability Insurance program, California’s Paid Family Leave Act is technically an insurance program enacted into law in 2002. This law extends basic unemployment disability compensation to cover individuals who take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member as well as for the arrival of a new child.
This program was made into law after an extended campaign undertaken by the Work and Family Coalition by the Labor Project for Working Families and the California Labor Federation along with AFL-CIO. California was the first state to pass a law requiring a Paid Family Leave program until 2008, when two other states offered paid family leave benefits by law.
The statute declares that Paid Family Leave must be taken concurrently with leave administered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act. Both of these provide for up to twelve weeks of unpaid family leave within a single twelve-month period.
In 2016, the Act was amended to include a bill that would make the wage replacements for the act income-based. If you earned less than a third of the state average in annual income, you would get 70% of your income via PFL, while if you earned more, you would get 60%.
It was amended again in 2019, extending the amount of time that employees could take from six to eight weeks. In 2020, the law was adjusted so that large employers would have to grant 12 weeks of unpaid leave. This was the law for any employer with at least five workers.
How It Works In 2021
Essentially, the California FamilyR rights Act is the state version of the Family Medical Leave Act administered under the federal government. However, CFRA applies to smaller employers and covers more family members than the Federal Family Medical Leave Act. It is the Act that administers the Paid Family Leave Act.
Under the California Paid Family Leave Act, you’ll receive temporary disability insurance if you have to take time off to care for a seriously ill family member.
Administered by SDI, the program provides eight to twelve weeks of Paid Family Leave payments depending on the size of your employer. Before July 1, 2020, you could only have six weeks of leave time each year.
This program is often confused with the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). The California Paid FamilyL Leave program is a subset of CFRA. It is separate from the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
The main differences are that:
- FMLA does not cover domestic partners, while the California PFL covers domestic partners just like spouses.
- California PFL does not provide coverage for caring for ill or injured service members unless that service member is an employee’s spouse, parent, or child.
Who Pays For Paid FMLA
The Paid FMLA Leave program is administered and paid for by the State Disability Insurance program of the Employment Development Department.
Like the regular State Disability Insurance program, paid FMLA is funded by employees’ contributions that are taken out of every worker’s paycheck at a rate of 1.2%.
A few changes to California’s Paid Family Leave Act are expected to be put in place in the next few years.
Assembly Bill 123 was passed in May 2021 with a 65-0 vote. It would increase the wage replacement rate from at least 60% to 90% of a worker’s highest quarterly earnings within the last 18 months.
Ideally, Assembly Bill 123 would give lower-income workers easier access to the benefits already being taken out of their paychecks. In years past, the 60% wage replacement made it impractical for workers to take family leave, even if they desperately needed it. In fact, between 2017 and 2019, the number of claims from the lowest wage workers declined while claims from the highest earners rose by one-third.
Senate Bill 83 is another proposed change to PFL that’s expected to take place by 2022. This law requires that the Governor submit a proposal extending PFL to six months.
To qualify for Paid Family Leave and get paid for taking care of a parent, spouse, child, or family member, you must participate in the State Disability Insurance Program or some other voluntary program that is meant to serve the role of SDI.
You must also meet the following eligibility requirements, according to the State of California Employee Development Department:
- You are unable to do your customary or regular work
- You have lost wages due to the need to provide care for a family member, bond with a new child, or participate in a qualifying event that results from a family member’s active duty military deployment abroad
- Be employed or actively looking for work at the time your family leave begins
- Have earned a minimum of $300, from which State Disability Insurance deductions were withheld during that period
- Complete and submit a claim form no earlier than the first day your family leave begins but no later than 41 days after it begins
- Provide a medical certificate on your care claim for the ill family member
It is important to note that your immigration or citizenship status does not affect eligibility.
What counts as a serious health condition? This can refer to any illness, impairment, injury, or physical or mental condition that involves any level of incapacity (or an inability to work or perform daily living activities). It can also involve inpatient care in a hospice, hospital, or residential medical care setting.
Some conditions do not meet eligibility requirements for PFL because they are generally not long-lasting. As long as complications do not arise, the following conditions are not covered under the law:
- Minor ulcers
- Headaches other than migraines
- Upset stomach
- The common cold and influenza
- Cosmetic treatments
In addition, school employees are not deemed eligible for wage replacement benefits when they are on school break periods unless they typically work at other jobs during those breaks for additional income.
While the federal Family Medical Leave Act applies only to private employers with 50 or more employees and all public employees, CFRA covers private employers with five or more eligible employees.
There are several benefits under Paid Family Leave that are worth addressing. It is important to note that PFL does not hold your place at your job. It has no job security stipulations but instead relies on the limited job protection already provided by state and federal law. An employer only has to grant time off and hold your job if you are covered by the federal FMLA or CFRA acts.
How Long Is Paid Family Leave?
Paid Family Leave can be taken all at once or split up over 12 months. You can earn benefits for up to eight to twelve weeks, depending on the size of your employer.
Can I Extend My Paid Family Leave?
As of right now, it is not usually possible to extend your Paid Family Leave unless you are able to stack benefits with federal Family Leave benefits (something that’s generally difficult except for unusual circumstances such as if one program covers circumstances that the other does not).
The proposed Senate Bill 83 may allow you to extend your PFL for up to six months, but this bill has not yet been passed into law.
In rare cases, you might be able to request an extension by contacting the state directly and giving a verbal certification.
You may also be able to use sick leave, vacation time, paid time off, or other forms of leave offered by your employer to supplement your family leave benefits and receive up to 100% pay.
How Much Can You Get Paid?
Under Paid Family Leave in California, you are eligible to receive 60 to 70% of your wages for up to eight to twelve weeks (depending on the size of your employer) with a maximum weekly benefit of $1,357 in 2021. The benefits are currently capped at 60% of your salary for higher-income earners and 70% for lower-income earners, but these caps are expected to increase in the next few years.
If you want to know exactly how much you can get paid, go to the California Employment Development Department Website. Here, you can find more information on filing a claim and calculating your paid family leave benefits amounts.
How To Apply
The easiest way to apply for Paid Family Leave benefits is to apply online using SDI Online. You can also apply by mail, but SDI Online is available 24 hours a day and is easy to use. It can dramatically reduce the claim processing time.
When you apply, you will need to submit information such as:
- Your first and last name
- Your Social Security number and driver’s license number
- Your current employer’s business name, mailing address, and phone number
You may also have to submit information such as any wages you might receive or expect to receive from your employer, worker’s compensation information, proof of relationship, or armed services military assist documentation.
After you have applied, your employer will be notified that you have submitted a claim. Any pertinent medical information will be kept confidential and not shared with your employer.
California’s Paid Family Leave Act may not cover all of your expenses while you’re out of work to care for a family member, but it can certainly take care of a chunk of them.