Paid Family Leave (California)

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California's Paid Family Leave (PFL) insurance program, which is also known as the Family Temporary Disability Insurance (FTDI) program, is a law enacted in 2002 that extends unemployment disability compensation to cover individuals who take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member or bond with a new minor child. Benefits equal approximately 55% of earnings and have a maximum per week, for a total of up to six weeks.

The Paid Family Leave program is administered by the State Disability Insurance (SDI) program of the Employment Development Department.[1] Benefits commenced on July 1, 2004. The PFL insurance program is fully funded by employees' contributions, similar to the SDI program.

The statute states that PFL must be taken concurrently with leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), both of which provide for twelve weeks of unpaid leave in a twelve-month period. In other words, the FMLA and CFRA offer job protection for up to twelve weeks of family leave whereas PFL offers compensation for up to six weeks.


In 2002, after an extended campaign by the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO [2] and the Work and Family Coalition led by the Labor Project for Working Families,[3] California was the first state to pass a law requiring the Paid Family Leave program.[4] As of mid-2008, the only other states that had passed laws to offer paid family leave benefits were Washington and New Jersey.[5]

In 2009, five years after California's paid family leave law first went into effect, Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, a Democrat from the same state, introduced H.R. 2339, the Family Income Responding to Significant Transitions (FIRST) Act, which would provide federal grants to states with existing paid family leave laws to implement and administer their paid family leave programs, and would encourage other states to develop their own paid family leave programs.[6]


In order to qualify for PFL, employees must participate in the State Disability Insurance (SDI) Program (or a voluntary plan in lieu of SDI).

Benefits under the program include the following:

  • PFL allows for up to six weeks of paid leave in a twelve-month period.
  • PFL covers employees who take time off to bond with their own child or their registered domestic partner's child, or a child placed for adoption or foster-care with them or their domestic partner. PFL covers employees who take time off to care for a seriously ill child, parent, spouse or domestic partner.
  • The employer may require employee to take up to two (2) weeks earned, but unused, vacation prior to the employee’s initial receipt of PFL benefits.

Eligibility requirements include the following:

  • The size of the employer is a non-issue; employees working for small businesses with fewer than fifty employees fully qualify. However, restrictions under FMLA and CFRA (e.g. the FMLA only covers firms with 50 employees or more) may render employees ineligible for job protection under those laws even while they qualify for compensation under the PFL law.[7]
  • There is a seven-day waiting period before the employee may receive PFL benefits.
  • Eligibility expires one year from the minor child's date of birth, adoption, or foster care placement.

The PFL does have its limits: unlike the FMLA, the PFL does not offer job security stipulations. Instead, it relies on the limited job security already provided by other state laws.[8]

Benefit rates[edit]

For PFL claims in 2010, weekly benefits range from $50 to $987. As of 2017, the maximum weekly benefit is capped at $1,173.[9]

The base period covers 12 months and is divided into four quarters of three months each. To qualify for the minimum weekly amount ($50), an individual must have at least $300 of wages (or $75 per quarter) in the base period.[10]

As of 2017, to qualify for the maximum weekly benefit amount ($1,173) an individual must earn at least $26,070.92 in one quarter during the base period.[10] The wages paid approximately 5 to 18 months before the claim begins are included in the base period (they must be subject to the SDI tax).[needs update]


Mothers-in-law and fathers-in-law are not included as care recipients. However, beginning on July 1, 2014, the law will be expanded to include time off to care for a seriously ill grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or parent-in-law.[11]

An employee may not receive PFL insurance benefits if he or she is also eligible for or already receiving State Disability Insurance, Unemployment Compensation Insurance, or Workers' Compensation.

An employer is not required to grant time off nor to hold a job for an employee unless the employer is covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).

Awareness and usage patterns[edit]

In the first year of the program's passage, only 138,000 people applied for benefits. This was less than half of California's estimate for number of benefit recipients, 300,000. Of those claims, 88% were for bonding with a new child while 12% were for caring for an ill family member. Females dominated the claims, making up 83% of new child claims and 70% of care claims. Although the low number of claims could have been due to the program being relatively unknown, benefits of the program being too low may also have had an impact.[8]

In a study conducted in California and Illinois of parents of chronically ill children before (2003-2004) and after (2005-2006) the passage of PFL, no difference was observed in time taken off work to care for a sick or newly born child. Of those parents surveyed, only 18% had heard of the program and 5% had used it.[12]

In a survey of 253 employers and 500 employees, 89% of employers said they experienced no noticeable effect or a positive effect from the program, with larger employers having a more favorable view than small employers, likely since they are likely to already provide paid family leave. Sixty percent of employers reported saving on costs by coordinating their own sick leave with PFL.[13]

In a 2007 survey of California adults, only 28.1% were aware of the PFL program.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ EDD. About the Paid Family Leave Insurance Program. Retrieved July 21, 2008.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Netsy Firestein and Nicola Dones, "Unions Fight for Work and Family Policies--Not for Women Only," in The Sex of Class: Women Transforming American Labor ed. Dorothy Sue Cobble, pp. 140-154. Cornell University Press, 2007.
  4. ^ Jones, Gregg. Davis to sign bill allowing paid family leave. Los Angeles Times, September 23, 2002.
  5. ^ Lu, Adrienne. Paid family leave now law in N.J. Philadelphia Inquirer, May 3, 2008. Retrieved July 21, 2008.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Leaves That Pay: Employer and Worker Experiences with Paid Family Leave in California | Russell Sage Foundation". Retrieved 2016-08-03. 
  8. ^ a b Wisensale, Steven (2006). "California's Paid Leave Law: A Model for Other States?". Marriage & Family Review. 39 (1-2): 177–195. 
  9. ^ "Calculating Disability Benefit Payment Amounts". Retrieved 2016-08-03. 
  10. ^ a b Employment Development Department, State of California. Disability Insurance (DI) and Paid Family Leave (PFL): Weekly Benefit Amounts in Dollar Increments. Published 2016-01-01. Retrieved 2016-08-03.
  11. ^ "Calif. SB 770". 
  12. ^ Schuster, Mark (September 2008). "Awareness and use of California's Paid Family Leave Insurance among parents of chronically ill children". Journal of the American Medical Association. 300 (9): 1047–1055. 
  13. ^ Appelbaum, Eileen; Milkman, Ruth. "Leaves That Pay" (PDF). Center for Economic and Policy Research. Retrieved 3 December 2016. 
  14. ^ Milkman, Ruth. New data on paid family leave University of California at Los Angeles, January 2008. Retrieved July 21, 2008.

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