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California Revises Paid Family Leave to Benefit Workers

California has been taking significant legislative steps to improve conditions for workers over the past two years. Earlier this year, the state chose to expand the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), but it didn’t stop there. This past fall, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law improvements to both the Paid Family Leave (PFL) and State Disability Insurance (SDI) programs that will give lower-paid workers more support. 

These programs are invaluable for allowing workers to receive a portion of their regular wage if they need to take time off to care for their families. While CFRA will enable workers to take unpaid time off work to care for family members or themselves and protect their jobs, many lower-paid employees hesitate to take time off because of the impact on their finances. 

The updates to PFL and SDI will make it easier for these workers to take the time they need to care for themselves or those they love. Here’s what you need to know about the updates to these programs and how you can request CFRA leave and PFL or SDI compensation.

Understanding California Paid Family Leave and State Disability Insurance

Governor Newsom made waves when he signed Senate Bill (SB) 951, which adjusts both the Paid Family Leave and State Disability Insurance programs. PFL is intended to provide up to eight weeks of wage replacement benefits to eligible workers if they need to take unpaid time off work for qualifying reasons, which include:

  • Caring for seriously ill children, parents, spouses and registered domestic partners, siblings, grandparents, or grandchildren. 
  • Bonding with a new child through birth, adoption, or foster placement.
  • Qualifying exigencies related to a family member’s military service. 

These cases directly correlate with almost all qualifying reasons to take time off under the CFRA. The exception is for injuries, illnesses, or conditions affecting the worker themselves. This is because SDI is in place to cover those situations. You can apply for SDI to receive wage-replacement benefits if you are an eligible employee who cannot work due to a non-work-related illness, injury, or pregnancy. This neatly covers most of the remaining reasons why CFRA may be used. 

Revisions to PFL and SDI

SB 951 significantly adjusted how PFL and SDI payments will be calculated. Currently, the programs allow workers to receive up to 70% of their regular wages while they qualify. However, this places many lower-earning workers below the minimum wage, which can significantly impact their ability to support themselves and their families. As such, these workers may opt not to take time off because even a 30% cut to their wages is too much to justify taking time off to care for loved ones. 

That’s why SB 951 was written. Under the bill, a new benefit calculation will go into place starting in 2025. The new calculation considers the state’s average wage when determining the benefits eligible workers will receive. Any worker who receives 70% or less of California’s average wage would be eligible to receive 90% of their average pay instead of 70%. This significantly reduces the impact of taking unpaid leave, as lower-paid workers will only take a 10% cut to their earnings instead of 30%. 

How to Pursue CFRA Leave and PFL Compensation

While it will be several years before the updates to PFL and SDI kick in, you can still receive wage-replacement benefits if you take time off. Even 70% of your earnings can be invaluable if you or a loved one is ill and you must stay home from work. First, however, you should ensure you can take that time off to heal or care for your family under CFRA. 

Only eligible employees can take CFRA leave. You’re eligible if:

  • Your employer has five or more workers or is a public agency
  • You have worked for your employer for at least 12 months
  • During the past 12 months you’ve worked for your employer, you have worked at least 1250 hours for them
  • You have not yet taken 12 weeks of CFRA leave in the preceding 12-month period

If you meet these conditions, you can take leave for all the reasons that make you eligible for SDI or PFL payments. You may need to provide your employer with proof that you or your loved one is sick with a doctor’s note or that you have a new child by showing them documentation of the birth, foster placement, or adoption. 

If your request for CFRA leave is unfairly denied, this can impact your ability to request PFL or SDI. Voluntarily quitting a job may affect your eligibility for these programs, and you cannot receive payments from either if you continue working. In that case, taking action against your employer may be necessary to have your request for leave granted. 

This may be as simple as notifying HR that your request was unfairly denied and explaining your reasoning. However, if your complaint is ignored, or if you have been fired or otherwise retaliated against for requesting your state-protected leave, you may need legal help.

Legal Assistance for Unfairly Denied CFRA Leave Requests

When you believe your request for CFRA leave has been denied, your first step should be to consult with an experienced employment law attorney. Your employer does not have the stress of an illness or lost income impacting its ability to fight your claim. If you want the best possible chance of receiving protected CFRA leave and PFL or SDI payments, you need to have knowledgeable experts on your side. 

That’s where the attorneys at Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP can help. We are dedicated to protecting your employee rights and have years of experience acting as legal counsel to California workers. Learn more about how we can help you negotiate or litigate your denied CFRA claim by scheduling your free consultation.

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