California was the first state in the nation to enact a law that gives disability compensation to individuals who take time off from work to care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, or domestic partner, or to bond with a new child. In 2002, the Paid Family Leave (PFL) insurance program was established, and commencing July 2, 2004 millions of California workers became eligible to receive benefits under the program.
PFL provides paid leave insurance benefits for all leaves:
- to bond with employee’s own child or employee’s domestic partner’s child; or a child placed for adoption or foster care with employee or employee’s domestic partner; and/or
- to care for a seriously ill child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner of employee.
The program is funded by employee contributions, which are made through wage deductions. Benefits are payable for up to 6 weeks in a 12-month period. PFL covers all employers with one or more employees who are subject to the state’s Short Term Disability Program. Unlike leave under most state and federal discrimination laws, there is no minimum period of employment required for an employee to be eligible for PFL.
PFL is related to but is not the same as other leave programs, such as the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) or the federal Family Care Leave Act (FMLA). (For more information on the FMLA, check out FMLA and Extended Employee Absences.) That’s because PFL is not a law that provides the right to take time off from work — its title is confusing in that regard. Rather, PFL is a type of wage loss protection program. Time off is determined by an employer’s leave policies and the other leave and employment discrimination laws. PFL applies only where an employee does, in fact, take leave, and it is used to assist the employee with some amount of wage replacement.
Since PFL is not a law that gives the right to take time off, PFL also does not give any job protection rights. Job protection, if there is any, would be determined under the state and federal laws and employer policies under which the employee is taking the time off. That means an employer may require that PFL runs concurrently with leave under the FMLA, CFRA, etc.
There are certain waiting periods for benefits that apply under PFL. And an employer is allowed to require an employee to use up to two weeks of accrued PTO or paid vacation time at the beginning of the leave. Also, an employer can choose to coordinate sick leave benefits so that accrued paid sick time is used to make up for any wages that are not replaced by benefits paid under PFL.
All in all, PFL is a breakthrough program. It has enabled many employees to take time off from work to deal with significant personal issues who may not have been able to afford to do so previously. Since time off under state and federal family and medical leave laws is usually unpaid, PFL is an important way to try to minimize some of the financial burdens associated with taking needed time off from work.
The integration of all the different types of leaves that are required or permitted by law, along with benefit programs such as PFL, can be very confusing. Employers can make mistakes without intending to do so and, as a result, become subject to legal liability. So it is important to work with your human resources or legal departments to determine your obligations and rights in each situation.
Barrie Gross is former Vice President and Senior Corporate Counsel (Employment Law) for an international Fortune 1000 company and is a regular contributor to AllBusiness.com. She is the founder of Barrie Gross Consulting, a human resources training and consulting firm dedicated to assisting companies to manage and develop their human capital. Visit www.barriegrossconsulting.com to learn more about Barrie and the services BGC provides.
Note: The information here does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as legal advice. If you have a legal issue or wish to obtain legal advice, you should consult an attorney in your area concerning your particular situation and facts. Nothing presented on this site or in this article establishes or should be construed as establishing an attorney-client or confidential relationship between you and Barrie Gross. This article is provided only as general information, which may or may not reflect the most current legal developments or be complete.