Does California Have Paid Family Leave?

In today’s U.S.A., stay-at-home parents are increasingly uncommon. Data from the U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics shows that both parents are employed in 59.8% of married households. The vast majority of parents work – 92.3% of fathers and 71.2% of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force. As a result, “does California have paid family leave?” is a question at the forefront of many soon-to-be and new parents’ minds in the Golden State. 

While the U.S. offers no paid family leave for new parents on a federal level, California does provide eligible mothers and fathers with paid leave. Today, we explore paid family leave in California, the benefits of taking it, and what to do if your employer refuses a leave request or fires you for making one.

A father takes paid family leave to care for his child.

How Does Paid Family Leave Work in California?

Under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), fathers may take up to 12 weeks of paternity leave to bond with a new child (including adoptions) and help their partner recover from childbirth. To obtain family leave under the CFRA, fathers must work for their current employer for at least a year, or 1,250 hours. The CFRA applies to any employer with five or more employees. 

The California Paid Family Leave (PFL) program provides paid family leave for up to eight weeks post-birth. Employees eligible for PFL receive 60-70% of their wages. To obtain PFL, an employee must:

  • Take CFRA leave to care for a seriously ill spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling, or to bond with a new child within the first year after birth or adoption;
  • Prove that taking time off work would result in lost wages;
  • Earn at least $300 in any calendar quarter from which California State Disability Insurance (SDI) was deducted;
  • Submit Paid Family Leave Forms to the Employment Development Department (EDD) within 41 days of starting family leave.

Mothers also receive maternity leave under the CFRA. Additionally, mothers can also receive additional pregnancy disability leave to address the physical and mental impact of giving birth. 

Parents do not have to share CFRA leave. In other words, both fathers and mothers may take 12 full weeks of CFRA leave (plus any additional pregnancy disability leave given to the mother) post-birth.

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and CFRA, employers must reinstate workers to the same or a similar position following their leave. Failure to do so may be a labor law violation. 

How Do I Request Paid Family Leave?

Parents who want to take paid family leave must give a minimum of 30 days’ notice to their employer. You may also want to supply your employer with additional information, such as:

  • The expected duration of the leave;
  • Whether you wish to qualify for PFL or pregnancy disability (for mothers);
  • Any additional information you think is relevant. 

As long as you provide 30 days’ notice, your employer cannot deny you family leave under the CFRA/FMLA. If you request leave less than 30 days before birth due to an emergency, you are still entitled to it – you just need to notify your employer “as soon as is practicable.” 

Give notice in writing if you can, and make a copy of your request for your records (ideally, with some proof of the date you made the request). If your employer tries to deny you leave, having a written request is invaluable evidence. 

A mother with her child on her chest takes maternity leave.

What If My Employer Denies My Leave Request?

If you qualify for family leave under the CFRA or FMLA, meaning you:

  • Work for an employer with five or more employees;
  • Are employed by said employer for at least a year, and;
  • Work for said employer for at least 1,250 hours prior to requesting leave;

They cannot legally deny a timely request for family leave. Employers who deny legitimate family leave requests violate labor laws in doing so, and must be held accountable. 

You have one year from the date your employer denies you leave to file a discrimination complaint with the Department of Fair and Equal Housing (DFEH). The DFEH will investigate your employer and impose penalties if they committed a violation. 

You can also file a civil action (lawsuit) against your employer. If you can prove that:

  • You were eligible for the leave you requested;
  • You asked for leave for a qualifying reason, and gave appropriate notice;
  • Your employer refused to grant your leave request or reinstate you to the same or similar position once your leave ended; and
  • Your employer’s actions harmed you; 

You could obtain compensation. For example, you can recover damages for emotional distress, lost income and benefits, and potentially punitive damages to punish your employer for violating labor laws.

A mother with her child on her lap relaxes.

Why Do We Need Paid Family Leave?

Forty-eight percent of men working full-time jobs say that job demands interfere with family life sometimes or often. 

The weeks and months immediately following a child’s birth are crucial for bonding. According to the Center on Budget Policy Priorities, parents who participate in family leave programs “experience lower prenatal stress levels, higher rates of breastfeeding, fewer infant hospitalizations, and increased parental involvement.” Access to paid family leave also reduces the chances of parents falling into poverty post-birth, especially single mothers. 

A study from the National Partnership for Women and Families showed that providing a national paid family leave program guaranteeing new parents 12 weeks of leave would lead to at least 600 fewer infant deaths per year.

Paid family leave makes it easier for parents to bond with a newborn or adopted child at the most formative stage of their life, increasing the strength of parental bonds and speeding up development significantly – but that’s not the only benefit. It also gives new mothers and fathers time to bond and reaffirm their relationship after childbirth, which can be difficult for many – particularly mothers with postpartum depression.

At Wilshire Law Firm, we’re proud to help mothers and fathers defend their right to leave. If you have a pregnancy or leave discrimination case, contact us online or call us at (800) 501-3011 – we’re here for you.