Paid family leave expansion can give California workers peace of mind
WATCH: EDD News Briefing on Expanded Paid Family Leave
LOS ANGELES — Unforeseen complications demanded Sophia Cheng to give birth to her first child two weeks premature.
Doctors informed her that she would have to deliver the very evening of what had been scheduled to be a routine prenatal visit two years ago. After losing a lot of blood during labor, she spent the next two weeks in the neonatal intensive care unit recovering as her child lay in an incubator.
“At the time, I could barely walk. I was very stressed out,” said the community organizer for the nonprofit, Restaurant Opportunities Center – LA (ROC-LA). “I was very lucky I knew about paid family leave (PFL), because my job and my income were the last things on my mind.”
PFL affords peace of mind by allowing workers to receive a portion of their wages while they take time off to bond with a new child or care for an ailing loved one.
However, Cheng and other participants of a briefing at the offices of the Employment Development Department (EDD) in Los Angeles on Thursday, January 11, said many workers, especially those in low wage professions, have no idea paid family leave (PFL) exists. Advocates say the benefits are drastically underutilized by Californians who are already paying for them via State Disability Insurance (SDI) deductions on their paychecks.
Paid family leave expansion
The EDD hopes that will change following expansions to the PFL program, which took effect at the beginning of 2018. AB 908 eliminates the waiting period to receive benefits and increases the portion of their earnings that claimants are paid. That value jumps from 55% of earned income to 70% for workers making close to minimum wage, and 60% for those bringing in up to $108,000 annually.
In addition, SB 63 extends job security to more workers who take PFL. The recently implemented measure reduces the number of employees a business needs to have before they must guarantee PFL from 50 to 20. It prevents companies from punishing employees with layoffs, pay cuts, unfavorable schedules or any negative change to their employment status after coming back from leave.
“Retaliation is so real,” said Cheng. “Just the idea that you might lose your job for taking a short term leave definitely deters people.”
Lack of knowledge
A lack of knowledge about PFL on the part of both employees and employers also prevents many workers from claiming their benefits in times of need. In surveys, a significant number of participants said they would have taken PFL if they had known it was available, according to the Director of USC’s Family Caregiver Support Center, Dr. Donna Benton. While most people are comfortable with the concept of maternity leave, she notes that PFL benefits apply to a wide range of life changing circumstances.
She said that 90% of caregiving is performed by family members, and one out of four households in California cares for an ailing loved one. However, only 12% of PFL benefits are allocated to people treating relatives dealing with cancer, Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis and other debilitating illnesses.
“When my mother was gravely ill I would come to work and be so worried that she was going to die, and I wouldn’t be there by her side,” said the Education and Outreach Director for Maternal and Child Health Access, Celia Valdez, during Thursday’s briefing. “I would worry … because I had financial obligations and I had to work.”
Can be reset yearly
Valdez, who has children of her own, said PFL allowed her to continue her work and still drive her mother to appointments or stay in to care for her when her condition would sporadically worsen. The six weeks of leave offered by the program do not have to be taken all at once, and reset every year.
The benefits are also flexible in that they apply to parents, parent-in-laws, siblings, spouses and children of people dealing with severe ailments. They also extend to both mothers and fathers welcoming biological, adoptive or foster children into their families, regardless of their immigration status.
Good for employers too
The program is ultimately good for employers as well, according to Thursday’s panelists. It helps mitigate employee stress during crises, and demonstrates that a company cares about the wellbeing of its workers, thereby contributing to job satisfaction and performance, according to Benton.
Cheng said she recognizes the concerns of small-business owners figuring out how to cope with the extended absence of a valuable employee. However, she estimates that employers spend
about $10,000 in recruitment, training and lost productivity to replace an experienced employee. That cost that may make it wiser to grant an employee leave rather than hiring someone else.
“If you have people dropping out of the workforce or their job for routine life events like the illness of a family member or the birth or adoption of a child, that hurts business,” said Cheng, who delivered her first-born son safely, and is six months pregnant with her second child. She added that “Employers are people too. They also have children and sick relatives.”
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