1. What Is Paternity Leave in California?
2. How Can I Find Out if I'm Entitled to Unpaid Leave?
3. Will I Still Get My Benefits While I'm Out on Leave?
4. How and When Should I Request Leave?
5. How Will Paternity Leave Affect My Career?
6. My Employer Denied My Paternity Leave, What Can I Do?
7. What Happens If I Am Unable to Qualify for Leave Under FMLA?
8. California Paves the Way for Family Leave Benefits
9. What Are Some of the Proposed Changes to Paternity Leave Laws?

Updated October 30, 2020:

What Is Paternity Leave in California?

Paternity Leave in California is the time that a father would take off to help care for, and bond with his new child while living in California. Unfortunately, paternity leave is rarely paid and can sometimes affect a person's career or financial situation.

In California, there is now a family leave insurance program that went into effect in July of 2004. Through this program, workers who make regular contributions to the California State Disability Insurance Fund are entitled to partial pay for up to six weeks. This can be used for medical leave or for caring for a family member who is disabled or ill.

While many states are considering similar legislation, California is the first state to create a solution to unpaid paternity leave

This insurance, which is provided by the state, helps workers not to have to choose between caring for a loved one and maintaining their job to make the money they need. The insurance was created to cover:

  • Time off for the birth of a new baby or bonding time with a foster or adopted child
  • Leave needed to care for a close relative such as a sibling, child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, or in-laws
  • Time off for your illness or disability, including pregnancy-related issues

Workers do not need to use all of their weeks consecutively and will receive up to 55 percent of their weekly wages, which is determined by a weekly wage base period. To qualify, the applicant must apply between nine and 49 days into the leave as there is a non-payable waiting period of seven days before receiving benefits.

How Can I Find Out if I'm Entitled to Unpaid Leave?

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that employers allow their employees 12 weeks of unpaid leave in the event of a child's birth or adoption. While the FMLA does not require payment, it does require that the employee be able to return to their same or equal salary, position in the company, seniority, and benefits.

To qualify for unpaid family leave, there are two requirements that must be met:

  • You must work for a company with at least 50 or more employees, a school, or in a government position for a minimum of 20 workweeks in the previous calendar year and be within a distance of 75 miles from your place of employment.
  • You must have been employed for a minimum of 25 hours per week for 50 total weeks in the year before, which totals 1250 hours.

If you are in the top 10 percent of wage earners in your current company, there is a chance that you will not be fully restored to your previous position, but you are required to be given a reasonable opportunity upon your return to your job. If you are considered to be in a key position in your company, it is best to discuss what will occur upon your return.

An exception to the unpaid leave rule is if both parents work in the same company. In that event, they will only be entitled to 12 weeks of parental leave between the two of them.

Employees who take paid leave may be required to count that amount of leave toward their 12 weeks allowed during the year. An employer also has the discretion to allow employees to take both the paid and unpaid leave during the year. While an employee is allowed to take their leave in sections throughout the year, an employer may also allow the employee to take the leave in the form of a reduced weekly schedule.

Will I Still Get My Benefits While I'm Out on Leave?

According to the FMLA, the employer is required to continue the employee's health benefits while they take their leave. The employer must pay their original portion but can require the employee to pay the portion that they would normally contribute weekly or monthly through their paychecks.

If at any time during the employee's leave they inform their employer that they will not be returning to work, or if their job becomes terminated during leave, the employer can stop paying health insurance benefits and put the employee on COBRA. COBRA will allow an employee to maintain benefits if they choose to pay the full premium on their own.

When an employee decides not to return to work, the employer does have the right to request that the employee return the portion they paid on premiums. There is an exception to this if the employee decides to not return to work due to the development of a serious medical issue, or a circumstance that is determined to be beyond their control.

While health benefits must be continued, FMLA allows the employer to stop the clock on other benefits such as accrual of vacation time, stock options and raises related to seniority or time of service. Additionally, an employee will be unable to contribute to a 401k or flex account as they will not be able to contribute without a paycheck.

How and When Should I Request Leave?

While it is best to discuss paternity leave with an employer as soon as the pregnancy is announced, federal laws require that the employee must inform their employer of their anticipated leave within 30 days of the planned date. Giving the employer as much time to prepare for the leave usually puts the employee in a stronger position to negotiate their leave.

When discussing leave with an employer, it is best to discuss with them the longest amount of leave they plan to take. It will be easier for the company to accommodate a quicker return than the employee deciding to take a longer leave.

How Will Paternity Leave Affect My Career?

It is a concern for many men that taking paternity leave will hurt their career. This causes many men to be reluctant to exercise their right to do so. While it is illegal for a company to discriminate against a parent for taking leave, it is hard to know in the end how an employee's job will be affected.

Employees that are unsure how the leave will affect their jobs are encouraged to talk with others in their company who have taken leave, and inquire how their relationships with their boss or co-workers were affected.

Surveys conducted have shown that both men and women understand the importance of taking leave to meet family responsibilities and believe employers should support this need.

My Employer Denied My Paternity Leave, What Can I Do?

When an employee follows all of the leave requirements, has given proper notice, is requesting leave for a qualifying event, and his request is denied, they should gently remind their employer of the Family Medical Leave Act. Present them with a copy of the FMLA fact sheet that is easily available from the U.S. Department of Labor, and should be posted in the workplace.

If the employer still refuses to allow the leave, the employee should next contact the Labor Department Wage and Hour Division regional office to file a complaint. Sometimes a simple phone call to the employer from the Labor Department will resolve the leave issue, but if not, the Labor Department will investigate and sue the employer on behalf of the employee. During this time, the employee also has the right to retain their own lawyer familiar with employee rights.

What Happens If I Am Unable to Qualify for Leave Under FMLA?

Employees who do not qualify under FMLA, such as employees who work for smaller companies or those who work part-time, should inquire as to whether or not they qualify under other state laws. Sometimes state laws can be even more generous than FMLA.

If an employee finds that their leave does not fall under state or federal guideline, they can still ask their employer if they will allow a leave of absence. If you are a valuable employee, many companies will be willing to negotiate some kind of leave to allow you to meet your family responsibilities, as well as the company's needs.

If you are unable to negotiate leave with your company, there are still many ways that you can not only maximize the time you have with your new child but also ensure that you are able to get necessary bonding time.

  • Try picking up additional work hours in exchange for being able to take some time off around the birth of your baby. If you can trade shifts with a co-worker, try that as well.
  • When there is no need to wake up the next morning for work, be the one to put the baby to sleep or take over the night feedings for that day.
  • Try to schedule as many firsts, such as visiting the zoo, having a bath, getting a haircut, and trying solid food for the first time when you are off of work, so you will be there for as many moments as you can.
  • During your child's first year of life, eliminate any non-necessary activities that would take you away from time with your child.

California Paves the Way for Family Leave Benefits

Fifteen years after California became the first state to guarantee paid leave to welcome a new child or help with a family member, Governor Jerry Brown expanded the law to provide better benefits to low-income workers who require leave.

This new law will allow workers who make around the state minimum wage to be paid up to 70 percent of their salary while on leave, and those making $108,000 a year or more will get up to 60 percent. The law will go into effect in 2018.

What Are Some of the Proposed Changes to Paternity Leave Laws?

Research has shown that taking paternity leave has benefits for both parents, as well as the child. When men are involved early on during paternity leave, it is found that there is a more even distribution of the family and home responsibilities between both of the parents.

Research has also linked paternity leave to other family benefits, such as improvement in the overall health of the child. Mothers who have had partners that have taken leave are likely to suffer less from depression, and have higher earnings themselves, while men benefit from longer life expectancy.

With the proven benefits of paternity leave, President Obama called for the Department of Labor to investigate how the current California paid leave system could be effectively incorporated and adopted by the other states in the U.S.

Those who are advocates of country-wide paternity leave requirements believe that fathers need to be ensured:

  • Additional paid leave – In the United States approximately only 10 to 15 percent of all employers offer paid paternity leave, and in most cases, this is restricted to white-collar jobs. Lack of paid time off is one of the most common reasons men do not take paternity leave.
  • Protection against workplace stigma – Many men offered paid leave will not take it, or only take a small portion, due to the workplace stigma that is associated with it. Sometimes workplace culture looks down on those who take leave, giving the impression that they are not as committed to their jobs.
  • Job protection – Men also fail to take paternity leave out of fear that they will be demoted, lose their chance at promotion, or otherwise hinder their career.
  • More expanded coverage – Those not covered under federal leave laws may be unable to take leave as they cannot risk the loss of benefit coverage, or afford to pay full premiums.

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