Fewer than Hoped, Feared Take Advantage of Paid Leave Law

July 5, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A year after the passage of a new family leave law in California, the take-up rate was less than supporters had hoped - and that critics had feared, according to new data.

The first statistical snapshot of the impact of the Golden State’s controversial Paid Family Leave law finds that over 137,000 Californians took advantage of the state’s first year of paid family leave from work, according to new information from the state’s Employment Development Department. That’s about half the original 300,000 projection by the EDD ahead of the law’s passage (176,000 actually applied for the benefit).

The law allows 13 million private-sector workers to receive up to six weeks of paid leave to bond with a newborn or care for a seriously ill spouse, parent, or domestic partner. They receive 55% of their weekly wages (up to $840), funded by a payroll tax on workers’ wages.

Further than FMLA

The California measure goes significantly beyond federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), under which workers can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off to care for a family member or nurture their own illness. Moreover, the federal FMLA applies only to workers whose employers have a payroll of 50 people or more.

According to the Sacramento Bee, in the program’s first year, the average length of paid family leave was 4.84 weeks, and the average weekly benefit was $409.24.

About 83% of those who filed a claim for the newborn bonding benefits were women, and the vast majority of paid leave claims, roughly 88%, were for newborns. Claims for caregivers were just under 12%.

Of women who received pregnancy disability insurance, and were therefore informed of their right to paid family leave, only 49% opted to collect the additional benefit. That compared to the 90% that EDD had initially projected.