Many states have their own family and medical leave laws in addition to the federal FMLA. Sometimes, the law parallels the protections provided by the FMLA. Other times, however, the law provides greater benefits or protections than the federal FMLA. For example, state law may cover smaller employers not covered by the FMLA or employees who have worked for an employer for less time than the FMLA requires or may provide greater total job-protected time off than the 12 weeks the FMLA provides -- especially for women giving birth, who may be entitled to time off for their own pregnancy disabilities, plus time off to care for their newborn after the birth.
In addition, a handful of states provide some form of wage-replacement benefits for which you can apply while you are on an unpaid family or medical leave from work. Five states (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island) provide temporary disability benefits to workers who are temporarily unable to work due to their own medical conditions, including pregnancy and birth. (See Nolo's section on short-term disability benefits.)
California was the first state in the nation to provide comprehensive paid leave benefits -- the Paid Family Leave Insurance program, which provides an additional six weeks of partial wage benefits during a worker's unpaid time off to bond with a newborn, newly adopted, or new foster child, or to care for an ill parent, child, spouse, or domestic partner. A few other states have followed suit. See Nolo's article Paid Family Leave in California, New Jersey, Washington, and the District of Columbia for more information on these laws.
Also, many states have laws that allow at least some workers to use their own accrued sick days to care for an ill family member.
Employer Policies and Benefits
Lastly, many employers are now choosing to provide family and medical leave benefits above and beyond what state and federal law requires of them. For example, smaller employers that are not covered by state or federal family and medical leave laws may choose to provide unpaid, job-protected leave anyway, or employers who are required to provide only unpaid leave may choose to provide a certain amount of paid leave for their employees. Be sure not to miss out on any additional benefits your employer provides.
Do Your Homework
Because family and medical leave laws and benefit programs are so varied and complex, it's important that you get complete information about all of the laws and benefits that apply to your situation, including the following:
- Federal law. Find out if your employer is covered by, and if you are eligible to receive leave under, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. For more information on the FMLA, visit the U.S. Department of Labor's website at www.dol.gov. You can also find helpful information on the FMLA at the website of the National Partnership for Women and Families at www.nationalpartnership.org.
- State law and benefits. Find out about any additional protections and benefits your state provides. For more information, contact your state labor department, state fair employment department, and the state agency that administers temporary disability benefits if your state has them (for example, California's State Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave Insurance programs are administered by the state Employment Development Department, which you can visit at www.edd.ca.gov). The website of the National Partnership for Women and Families, www.nationalpartnership.org, also provides state-by-state information on state unpaid leave laws, state paid leave laws, and state paid sick leave laws, including legislative efforts to expand such laws in each state.
- Your employer's policies and benefits. Find out about any benefits or policies your employer provides. Look in your employee handbook or manual, read any informational posters posted in your workplace, and/or ask your human resources department for any information related to taking a family and medical leave.
For a complete guide to the laws that protect you in the workplace, from hiring and getting paid through privacy and firing, get Your Rights in the Workplace, by Barbara Repa (Nolo).
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