Paid Family Care Leave - California Employers, Are You Ready?

Understandably, many bills signed by Governor Gray Davis during the recall campaign fell below the radar screen of many California employers. However, SB 1661, signed in September 2002 and effective January 1, 2004, which now provides employees with paid family care leave is of significance to California employers of any size. Benefits under this law will become available to employees on or after July 1, 2004.

SB 1661 amended California’s disability laws such that employees can now take a paid leave of absence to care for a sick or injured child, spouse, parent, domestic partner or to bond with a new child. Unemployment Insurance Code §3300. Paid Family Care Leave will be administered through the California State Disability Insurance fund (SDI) with funding coming from an increase in an employee’s SDI withholding. Currently, SDI is a benefit providing partial wage replacement to employees who are unable to work due to a non-work related injury.

Paid Family Care Leave provides up to six weeks of partial wage replacement within any 12 month period. Eligibility for this benefit requires that the employee submit certification from a treating physician or practitioner that the qualifying event giving rise to this benefit warrants the care of the employee. An employee must wait seven days after beginning leave under this law before receiving benefits. Hence, the first week is therefore unpaid as benefits are not paid until the second week. Employers can require that an employee use up to two weeks of earned but unused vacation pay before receiving benefits under this law with the first week of vacation applied to the “waiting time” period.

Unfortunately, employees are not required to provide any prior notice of their need to take leave under this law. However, job reinstatement is not required for employees taking leave under this new law.

As of January 1, 2004, employers are required to provide written notice of the benefits available under this law. This new law will potentially significantly impact all employers especially small employers previously not covered by state or federal family leave laws. Employers are well advised to consult with legal counsel to review or implement new personnel policies to insure compliance with the new law as well as other new laws coming into effect as of January 1, 2004.