July 2 2004

Californians Have Access to First Paid Family Leave Program in the Country

On July 1, California’s new Paid Family Leave Law goes into effect, providing most Californians six weeks of partial pay when taking leave from work to care for a seriously ill parent, spouse, child, or domestic partner, or to bond with a new baby, foster, or adopted child. A recent study by the California Family Leave Research Project shows that, despite extensive public support for paid leave, only 22% of Californians are aware that they are eligible for the benefits.

This groundbreaking legislation creates the first comprehensive paid leave program in the nation. (While the Federal Family Medical Leave Act grants 12 weeks of unpaid family leave to eligible employees at large companies, many working families cannot afford to take the time off work without pay.) Paid Leave benefits are entirely employee-funded through California’s State Disability Insurance (SDI) program and allows employees to collect up to 55% of their salary, up to a maximum of $728 per week, while caring for their loved ones. Employers will pay nothing.

A state-wide study by the California Family Leave Research Project, headed by Ruth Milkman at the University of California, Los Angeles, reveals that slightly more than half of California employers already provide family and medical leave benefits beyond what is required by the current federal law and those that do may benefit from higher employee retention rates and reduced costs associated with recruiting and training new employees.

The study also found that while 85% of adults surveyed favored a law guaranteeing partially paid leave, only 22% were aware of California’s new Paid Family Leave Law.

Paid Family Leave comes at a critical time when there are more families that depend on two incomes than ever; more single-parent households; and a growing number of workers who need to care for ailing family members. Studies indicate that of the thousands of care-givers under age 65 in California who are juggling caregiving and job responsibilities, 15% had to reduce their work hours and another 15% were forced to quit their jobs to handle family responsibilities. Paid family leave will allow these family caregivers, the unsung heroes of the nation’s healthcare crisis, to care for elderly parents without losing their jobs and will help new parents give their children the time and attention they need for a healthy adulthood.

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