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Understanding California's new Family Medical Leave Act laws

The past several years have been very good for employees in California. Updated laws governing a variety of employment and workplace issues have been passed that have created an increasingly better work environment for most citizens. In April, legislators added additional provisions to Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) laws in the state, which have further improved conditions for California's lowest wage earners.

For background, FMLA is a federal law passed in the early 1990s which required employers to allow 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a new mother or father or for someone to take care of a family member. Many states added additional protections and laws governing this federal statute, and California is no exception. The state passed the California Family Rights Act, which required most employers to maintain a person's job and benefits while he or she is out during the approved time. Then the state took it further by allowing an employee to seek disability compensation four weeks prior to giving birth and six to eight weeks after birth of a child (depending on the kind of birth).

The Paid Family Leave law was enacted in 2004, which provided workers up to 55% of their salary for six weeks in the event of a new baby or in order to care for an ill child, parent, spouse or partner. This was expanded in 2013 to include other close relatives. The new bill signed by the Governor in April of 2016 impacts the amount of money that workers can obtain when they take time off for family leave.

Starting in 2018, the new law will allow those earning the least in the state receive up to 70% of their pay, while those earning up to $108,000 can seek reimbursement for up to 60%. The primary eligibility requirement to receive these benefits is that the employee has to have paid the California State Disability Tax in the 18 months prior to seeking disability benefits. The amount due to the employee will depend on how long the person was employed during those months. In order to ensure fair and equitable treatment, employees may benefit from contacting an attorney if they feel their employer is not following the federal and state Family Medical Leave Act laws. A California attorney who is experienced in employment law will be able to assist in determining if an employee's fears are correct and discuss appropriate next steps.

Source: sonomacountygazette.com, "Taking Care of Families: California's Expanded Paid Family Leave", May 1, 2016

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