San Diego’s Mayor Todd Gloria has officially signed a new bill into law doubling leave benefits for city employees. The law increases the paid parental leave workers receive from 160 hours to 320 hours, or eight total weeks of full-time work. As such, eligible city employees can take time off to welcome a new child to the family without risking their finances.
The bill also has several other benefits for employees. It eliminates the 30-day waiting period for pregnancy-related disability benefits, so workers do not need to go a month without financial support due to a difficult pregnancy. Finally, it slashes the eligibility requirement for pregnancy benefits from one year of employment to just 30 days. As a result, people do not have to put off their plans for parenthood for the risk of losing income.
These changes make the city a significantly more appealing employer. They encourage younger workers and marginalized demographics to begin careers within the city by ensuring they can still start and support their families despite the high cost of living. They also provide invaluable support for women, who are more likely to exit the workforce to care for new children if their employer does not offer benefits.
However, it is important to note that benefits for city employees are very different from protected leave. While Mayor Gloria’s bill is an excellent step forward, it is not the same kind of leave guaranteed by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Here’s how these types of policies differ and how they may impact your plans.
The Differences Between Employer and Governmental Leave
The CFRA and FMLA are government programs guaranteeing workers the right to a certain amount of time off for qualifying events. Under the CFRA, covered employers must grant qualifying employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for certain events. Covered employers include all companies with five or more workers and all public and government institutions, regardless of size.
Qualifying employees are those who have worked for an employer for at least 12 months and have performed 1250 hours of work for that employer in the last year. These workers may take unpaid leave to care for a designated person, recover from a significant medical event or condition, or welcome a new child into the family.
Critically, CFRA and FMLA compliance is not optional. Employers cannot fire someone for requesting or taking protected time off. They cannot retaliate against them, either. When the employee returns, they must be given their previous job back, including their former hours, responsibilities, location, and title.
This is very different from employer-offered paid-leave plans. Employers can offer whatever type of leave they want. However, this time is not protected, nor is it guaranteed. Every organization can set its requirements and criteria for time off, so you may not be eligible for your employer’s program. Furthermore, organizations do not need to return workers to their previous positions if they take unprotected time off. This is true of private and government employers alike. As such, paid parental leave programs are not always as secure as unpaid, protected alternatives.
Can Your Employer Change Your Leave Benefits?
While Mayor Gloria’s change to employee benefits is positive, it raises an important question. When and how can your employer change benefits like paid leave? Employers generally have the right to change the fringe benefits they offer, such as paid time off (PTO) and leave, whenever they want. However, there are some exceptions.
First, if paid parental leave is explicitly part of your employment contract, your employer cannot rescind it without your permission. However, matters become more complex if your contract lumps this time off into “other benefits as provided” or states that it may be subject to change.
Second, if you work for an organization subject to a collective bargaining agreement, your employer may not be permitted to change your benefits. This agreement is just as binding as your employment contract.
Third, if you work for a government, such as the city of San Diego, local laws may provide more guarantees about your PTO. Changing a law is significantly more complex than altering a private organization’s policies. As such, your benefits are less likely to change for the worse.
When Do Leave Changes Violate Your Rights?
Your employer may be able to alter your benefits, but certain changes violate your rights. Unlawful actions include:
- Cutting your benefits to lower than local, state, or federal minimums
- Setting policies that bar you from taking protected leave
- Revoking paid time off without paying you the equivalent amount
- Retaliating against you for requesting CFRA or FMLA time
If you experience any of these changes, your employer is violating your rights. This is true whether you work for a public or private organization. You can take a stand to ensure you receive the benefits and time off you are guaranteed under the law.
Talk to Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP
Cities around California are beginning to implement laws like San Diego’s, guaranteeing workers paid time off to care for new children. If you live in one of these cities, you may be owed up to eight weeks’ paid leave when welcoming your child into the world. If you are not granted this time, your employer may be violating your rights. If you believe your employer has violated your right to time off, you can get help. At Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP, we specialize in protecting California workers’ employee rights. You can schedule your free consultation today to discuss your situation and learn more about your rights under state and local law. Our California employment lawyers are available to help you hold your employer accountable for providing you with the paid or unpaid leave you’re owed.