California Paid Family Leave

California was the first state in the country to pass a paid family leave law. While federal law and the laws of many states had previously granted time off for family and medical reasons, the time off was unpaid. Since 2004, California employees can receive partial pay while they take time off to bond with a new child or care for an ill family member. Paid family leave is funded through deductions from employee paychecks.

Who Is Eligible for Paid Family Leave?

To be eligible for benefits, California employees must have earned $300 or more in wages during a 12-month base period preceding the claim. These wages must have been subject to withholdings for the state’s disability insurance program. However, there is no requirement that the employee work for an employer of a certain size. Because these requirements are relatively easy to meet, most workers in California will be eligible for paid family leave.

Employees must also take leave for one of the following covered reasons:

  • to bond with a new child who arrives by birth, adoption, or placement through the foster care system, or
  • to take care of a spouse, registered domestic partner, parent, child, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or parent-in-law with a serious illness.

Paid family leave is not available when an employee takes leave for his or her own illness. However, for short-term disabilities—including pregnancy and other medical conditions—the employee may be able to collect state disability benefits. For more information, see California Short-Term Disability Benefits.

How Much Is Paid Family Leave?

The California paid family leave program provides partial wage replacements to employees for a limited amount of time. Employees will receive 55% of their average weekly earnings, up to a maximum set by state law. As of January 1, 2017, the maximum weekly benefit is $1,173.

Beginning on January 1, 2018, a new law will take place that increases the benefit amount for paid family leave. Lower-wage earners will receive 70% of their average wages, while higher-wage earners will receive 60% of their average wages.

Benefits are paid for a maximum of six weeks. A seven-day waiting period applies, which means the employee must be out of work for a full week before starting to receive benefits. The one exception is for new mothers who have been receiving state disability insurance benefits due to pregnancy and childbirth. (These employees will already have served a one-week waiting period to receive disability benefits.) The waiting period will be removed for all employees starting in 2018.

Your employer may require you 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 Do I Apply For Paid Family Leave?

You can apply for California's paid family leave by completing a claim form provided by your employer or through the California Employment Development Department’s online filing system. The EDD recommends filing online for the quickest processing. To get started, check out the EDD’s step-by-step guide on how to file a claim online.

If you are taking leave to care for a sick family member, you will need to get a certification from your family member’s doctor. When you submit your claim to the EDD, you will receive a form receipt number. The doctor will need this form number in order to submit a certification in support of your claim.

For bonding leave, new mothers who have already applied for state disability insurance benefits for pregnancy and childbirth are not required to submit documentation. However, all other parents will need to provide evidence of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement.

You must file your application within 49 after the date you started your leave. Otherwise, you may lose your right to collect benefits. To avoid this, it’s best to file your claim on the day you start your leave.

Is My Job Protected While I Am On Leave?

The paid family leave program only gives employees the right to collect benefits; it does not provide job protection. This means that you can collect benefits from the state, but your employer may not be required to give you the time off or keep your job for you while you are on leave.

However, other state and federal laws may offer the right to take leave and reinstatement after the leave is over. For example, employers with 50 or more employees must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave to employees under the Family and Medical Leave Act and the California Family Rights Act. California’s pregnancy disability leave law also requires employers with five or more employees to provide protected time off for a pregnancy-related disability (although not for bonding leave). To learn more about these laws, see Family and Medical Leave in California.

Does My City Provide Additional Rights?

More cities and states are considering passing paid family leave laws. Your city’s laws may provide additional rights. For example, San Francisco recently passed a paid family leave law that requires employers with 20 or more employees to supplement the state’s paid family leave pay so that employees receive 100% of their wages for six weeks.

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