United States: California Extends Paid Family Leave Benefits From 6 To 8 Weeks

On June 27, 2019, Governor Gavin Newson (D) signed Senate Bill (SB) 83, which, beginning on July 1, 2020, will extend from six to eight weeks the maximum duration of paid family leave (PFL) benefits individuals may receive from California's State Disability Insurance (SDI) program:

  • to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or domestic partner; or
  • to bond with a minor child within one year of the birth or placement of the child via foster care or adoption.

In signing SB 83, the governor fulfills a campaign promise to expand the state's paid family leave benefits. SB 83 also requires the governor to propose, by November 2019, further benefit increases – in terms of duration and amount – and job protections for individuals receiving PFL benefits.

California was the first state to create a PFL program, which became operative in July 2004. Since then, the District of Columbia,1 Massachusetts,2 New Jersey,3 New York,4 Rhode Island,5 Washington State, and – most recently – Connecticut,6 have adopted similar programs. Moreover, San Francisco,7 California has a complementary requirement for covered individuals receiving PFL benefits for new child bonding purposes. Before SB 83's enactment, the duration of California's PFL benefits was shorter than most other states. Generally speaking, concerning family care and new child bonding,8 the District of Columbia allows six weeks for family care or eight weeks for bonding (eight weeks aggregated); Massachusetts allows 12 weeks; New Jersey allows six weeks, which increases to 12 weeks beginning July 1, 2020; New York allows 10 weeks, which increases to 12 weeks in 2021; Rhode Island allows four weeks; Connecticut allows 12 weeks. Although at first blush SB 83 does not put California on par with all other states, it lays the foundation to do just that.

Under SB 83, by November 2019, the governor must submit a proposal to increase PFL duration "to a full six months by 2021–22." Note, however, the proposal will be limited to bonding purposes, and "six months" represents the total duration if two parents claim PFL benefits. Describing current PFL benefits, SB 83 notes "these paid leave benefits provide families with approximately three months of paid leave when used consecutively;" two six-week periods – 12 weeks – is approximately three months. Before making his proposal, the governor must consult a to-be-formed task force, which itself must "consult with representatives from employer groups, labor, early education representatives, other employment experts, and the Legislature when developing the proposal."

SB 83 also requires the proposal to assess and address:

  • Job protections for employees. Currently, California PFL does not provide employment protections when employees are absent from work; instead, any protections must derive from other related laws like the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), or the state New Parent Leave Act (NPLA).
  • Increasing wage replacement rate up to 90% for low-wage workers. Currently, California PFL provides wage replacement of approximately 60 to 70%, depending on an individual's income.
  • A plan to implement and fund expanded PFL benefits. For example, beginning July 1, 2019, SB 83 separately decreases the worker contribution rate, so the state will decrease the amount it will hold in reserve to fund the program.

Next Steps for Employers

During the one-year period before SB 83's extension takes effect, employers may consider reviewing leave policies, procedures and practices, and their parental or other paid leave benefits. Additionally, companies that operate state-approved voluntary plans in place of California's SDI program should consider consulting with knowledgeable counsel to determine whether SB 83's amendments affect their plan. Businesses with San Francisco operations also should monitor activity of the Board of Supervisors to see whether, and how, it may amend the Paid Parental Leave Ordinance in response to these state-level changes. Additionally, companies with Los Angeles operations should monitor activity of the L.A. City Council, which is currently exploring adopting an ordinance (similar to San Francisco's) that would require employers to provide up to 18 weeks of supplemental compensation to employees receiving SDI or PFL benefits prior to the birth of a child and/or for recovery from birth and for new child bonding.

Footnotes

1. To learn more about D.C.'s law, see Libby Henninger and Eunju Park, District of Columbia Passes Expansive Paid Leave Law, Littler Insight (Dec. 22, 2016), and District of Columbia Enacts the Universal Paid Leave Act, Littler Insight (Apr. 24, 2017).

2. To learn more about Massachusetts' law, see Christopher Kaczmarek and Alice Kokodis, Massachusetts Increases Minimum Wage, Eliminates Premium Pay For Sunday Work, And Enacts New Paid Leave Program, Littler ASAP (June 29, 2018), Alice Kokodis and Shannon Berube, Updated Massachusetts Paid Family and Leave Act Regulations Offer Additional Guidance as July 1 Effective Date Draws Near, Littler Insight (Apr. 3, 2019), and Christopher Kaczmarek, Alice Kokodis, and Shannon M. Berube, New Deadlines For Massachusetts Employers Under the Paid Family Medical Leave Program, Littler ASAP (June 14, 2019).

3. To learn more about recent updates to New Jersey's law, see Alison Andolena and Keith Rosenblatt, More Family Time and Money: New Jersey Expands its Family Leave Entitlements, Littler Insight (Feb. 27, 2019).

4. To learn more about New York's law, see Stephen Fuchs and Bruce Millman, Understanding New York's New Paid Family Leave Law, Littler Insight (May 23, 2016), Stephen Fuchs and Jill Lowell, New York Issues Final Paid Family Leave Law Regulations, Littler Insight (Aug. 9, 2017), Stephen Fuchs and Tom Cryan, New York State Issues Guidance on Tax Treatment of Paid Family Leave Contributions and Benefits, Littler ASAP (Aug, 29, 2017), and Stephen Fuchs and Jill Lowell, New York Paid Family Leave Benefits Law Deadline for Employers to Apply for Approval as a Self-Insured Employer Rapidly Approaching, Littler ASAP (Sept. 12, 2017).

5. To learn more about Rhode Island's law, see John Doran and Shannon O'Connor, Rhode Island Enacts Paid Temporary Caregiver Leave Law, Littler Insight (Aug. 21, 2013).

6. To learn about Connecticut's law, see Sharon Bowler and Jason Stanevich, Connecticut Set to Offer Most Generous Paid Family Leave Benefits in the Country, Littler ASAP (June 13, 2019).

7. To learn more about San Francisco's law, see Michelle Barrett Falconer and Sebastian Chilco, Bonding by the Bay: San Francisco Mandates Paid Parental Leave, Littler Insight (Apr. 21, 2016), San Francisco Amends Paid Parental Leave Law to Adapt to State Law Changes and to Clarify Requirements, Littler Insight (Sept. 21, 2016), and Local and State Developments Impact San Francisco Paid Parental Leave Obligations, Littler Insight (Feb. 13, 2017).

8. Other PFL laws may allow individuals to claim benefits for their own health condition or under certain circumstances when the family member is in the armed services. In California, individuals can claim disability benefits, but this benefit is not PFL. For example, a birth mother could claim individual disability benefits for an illness or injury resulting from pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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