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California is exception to national status of paid family leave

Most California employees are familiar with their rights to family and medical leave under federal and state law. Under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, employees may take up to 12 weeks of time off from work in a year to care for a newborn or newly adopted child, provide care for a seriously ill family member or recover from their own serious illness or injury. The California Family Rights Act provides similar benefits. Under both laws, employers are not required to provide a paid leave of absence in every case. Yet many employees may be unaware that state law also provides a paid family leave benefit under certain circumstances.

Why, then, is California's paid family leave law relatively unknown? The answer may be because it is such a rarity in this country. While 177 countries around the world require some form of paid maternity leave benefits to employees, the United States is not one of them. Only three states in the nation require paid family leave, including California. However, lawmakers in one of those states are looking to repeal the paid leave law.

Under California's paid family leave program, employees may receive weekly benefits equal to 55 percent of their wages, up to a maximum of $728, for six weeks. Benefits are administered by the State Disability Insurance program. The law applies to all California employers, not just those with at least 50 employees, which is the threshold for FMLA coverage. However, unlike FMLA, employers with less than 50 employees are not required to reinstate employees returning from paid family leave.

Any employee who believes he or she has been denied leave in violation of state or federal law would benefit by consulting with a knowledgeable employment law attorney. If it appears the employee's rights have been violated, the attorney can help him or her pursue a claim in order to be treated and compensated fairly.

Source: United States Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division, "Federal vs. California Family and Medical Leave Laws"

Source: North County Outlook, "Paid family medical leave under scrutiny," Zoey Palmer, Feb. 12, 2013

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