California Family Leave Proposal Moves Forward

August 29, 2002 ( - California employers are a step closer to dealing with a state law giving workers paid time off from work to care for a newborn or for sick family members.

If passed, the bill would make California – a bellwether state in many respects – the first state in the country to provide paid family leave through a workers disability insurance program. 

According to an Orange County Register news report, the California Assembly gave its stamp of approval to a family leave bill giving workers disability insurance for a long as six weeks of family leave.

SB 1661 by Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) now returns to the state Senate for final passage and then wends its way to the governor. The Reigster said Gov. Gray Davis hasn’t yet signaled his intentions for the legislation. If enacted, the bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2004.

The more than 13.1 million workers covered by the program would pay an additional $ 27 a year in disability insurance to cover the estimated $ 300 million annual cost.
Opposing the proposal were many business interests, including the California Chamber of Commerce who labeled the law as a “job killer.” The Chamber said the law would particularly hurt small businesses.

“Better” Business?

Kuehl accepted amendments to make the bill more palatable to business, including cutting paid leave from 12 weeks to six and dropping employers’ share of the cost. Under the bill, workers at companies with fewer than 50 employees would have no job protection if they take family leave.

The Register report notes that among developed nations, 127 have national paid- leave policies.  In the US, just four states other than California – Hawaii, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island – currently have disability insurance programs. 

However, none has approved using it for paid family leave, although some states (including California) allow workers to use paid sick time for family leave.

Federal Findings

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees at firms with 50 or more workers to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to recover from their own medical emergencies, to care for severely ill relatives, or to spend time with a newborn or a newly adopted child. 

And while over the years more than 35 million people have taken the unpaid leaves, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, a 2000 survey by that agency showed that nearly 80% of those qualifying for the leave opted not to take it because they couldn’t survive without a paycheck for an extended.   A separate Labor Department survey showed that 1 in 10 people who took the leave ended up on welfare to make up the lost income.


This year, more than 25 states have introduced paid family leave measures, according to the Chicago Tribune, most died in committee because of tight budgets. Paid family leave bills are currently pending in Congress as well as New Jersey and Hawaii.