Three states -- California, Washington, and New Jersey -- and the District of Columbia have laws that provide paid family leave for employees who need time off to care for sick or disabled family members or a new child. Except in the District of Columbia, payments (which are less than the employee's usual salary) come from a state insurance fund, not directly from employers.
These laws are the first to address a gap in family leave law. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act and similar state laws give covered employees the right to take leave for caretaking or parenting. However, that leave is unpaid. (To learn more about unpaid family leave, see Taking Family and Medical Leave.) And although some employers provide paid time off for parenting and caregiving, most do not.
To fill this gap, the pioneering state of California passed a paid family leave law -- and now, New Jersey, Washington, and Washington, D.C. have followed suit. Here are the details on these laws.
California Paid Family Leave
Since July 2004, California law has provided for employees to receive partial pay when they take time off to care for a seriously ill child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner, or to bond with a new child.
Benefit amount. Employees receive approximately 55% of their usual compensation, anywhere from $50 to more than $900 per week, from a state insurance program. The program is funded by employees through paycheck withholding.
Benefit time period. Employees can receive pay for six weeks of leave in a 12-month period. A seven-day waiting period applies, which means the employee must be out of work for a full week before starting to receive benefits. And the employer may require the employee to use up to two weeks of paid leave (vacation or sick leave, for example) before starting to receive benefits. If your employer has a policy like this, one of the weeks of paid leave will count as your waiting period.
How to apply. You can apply for California's paid family leave by completing a claim form available from your employer or online at the California Employment Development Department, www.edd.ca.gov (choose "Paid Family Leave" from the homepage).
Washington Family Leave Insurance
In 2007, Washington became the second state to pass a paid family leave law. The law was scheduled to go into effect in October 2009, but was postponed until 2012, and then again until 2015, due to budget shortfalls.
Washington's law applies only to parental leave: Eligible employees may receive partial pay when they take time off to care for a newborn or newly adopted child. Employees are eligible if they've worked at least 680 hours during the prior year or the year that ended three months before their leave starts.
Benefits. Employees receive benefits for up to five weeks. For employees who work at least 35 hours a week, the benefit amount is $250 per week. Employees who work fewer hours will receive a prorated amount.
New Jersey Family Leave Insurance
In 2008, New Jersey passed a paid family leave law, which took effect in July 2009. Employees may receive partial pay to take time off to care for a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, or civil union partner with a serious health condition, or to bond with a new child within 12 months of the child's birth or placement for adoption.
Benefits. Employees can receive benefits for up to six weeks of leave, which can be taken intermittently -- a day or two at a time rather than all at once -- if it's medically necessary (for example, because a family member needs care one day a week). Employees receive two-thirds of their usual wages, up to a maximum of $572 per week.
Benefit timing. Employees have a seven-day waiting period before they can receive benefits. However, an employee who is out for more than three weeks can receive benefits for the waiting period, too. Employers can require employees to use up to two weeks of paid accrued leave before starting to receive benefits; one of these weeks counts as the seven-day waiting period.
Get more information. you can find out more about this program at the website of New Jersey's Department of Labor and Workforce Development, http://lwd.dol.state.nj.us/labor (select "Family Leave Insurance").
District of Columbia Paid Sick and Safe Leave
In Washington, DC, employers must provide paid leave to employees who need time off for certain purposes. The amount of leave available depends on how many employees the company has.
Eligible employees. Employees who have worked at least one year for the employer without a break, and at least 1,000 in the past 12 months, are entitled to paid leave.
Reasons for leave. Employees may take leave for their own or a family member's physical or mental illness, injury, or medical condition, or for their own or a family member's medical care, diagnosis, or preventive medical care. If the employee or family member is a victim of stalking, domestic violence, or abuse, leave may be used to get medical attention, get services, seek counseling, relocate, take legal action, or take steps to enhance health or safety.
Amount of leave. The leave available depends on the size of the employer:
- Employers with 100 or more employees must provide at least one hour of paid leave for every 37 hours worked, up to seven days of leave per year.
- Employers with 25 to 99 employees must provide at least one hour of paid leave for every 43 hours worked, up to five days of leave per year.
- Employers with fewer than 25 employees must provide at least one hour of paid leave for every 87 hours worked, up to three days of leave per year.
For more information. The DC paid sick and safe leave law is enforced by the Department of Employment Services, http://does.dc.gov.
To learn about the rights that employees have to other types of leave, including unpaid family leave, get Your Rights in the Workplace, by Barbara Kate Repa (Nolo).