California Extends Paid Family Leave Benefits to 8 Weeks

 

By Michelle Barrett Falconer and Sebastian Chilco © Littler July 2, 2019
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​On June 27, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 83, which will extend the maximum duration of paid family leave (PFL) benefits from six to eight weeks beginning on July 1, 2020.

Individuals may receive such from California's state disability insurance (SDI) program:

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

In signing SB 83, the governor fulfilled a campaign promise to expand the state's paid family leave benefits. SB 83 also requires the governor to propose by November 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, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington, Washington, D.C.—and most recently, Connecticut—have adopted similar programs. Additionally, San Francisco has a complementary requirement for covered individuals receiving PFL benefits for 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, Washington, D.C., 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, and 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, the governor must submit a proposal to increase PFL duration to a full six months by 2021–2022. 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 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, such as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, the California Family Rights Act and the state New Parent Leave Act.
  • Increasing wage replacement rate up to 90 percent for low-wage workers. Currently, California's PFL provides wage replacement of approximately 60 to 70 percent, depending on an individual's income.
  • A plan to implement and fund expanded PFL benefits. For example, beginning July 1, SB 83 will separately decrease 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.

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.

Michelle Barrett Falconer and Sebastian Chilco are attorneys with Littler in San Francisco. © 2019 Littler. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission. 

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