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CA: Landmark Paid Leave Law Takes Effect

A groundbreaking new paid family leave law went into effect in California on July 1, making it easier for employees to spend time with new infants or to care for ailing relatives. The family leave law provides employees with up to 55 percent of their regular pay for up to six weeks of leave time. This law, a first in this country in terms of national social policy, will cover 13 million Californians, or nearly one-tenth of the American workforce. The United States is one of only five countries that does not offer paid leave for new mothers, out of a study of 169 countries done by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), according to The Washington Times.

At least 300,000 employees will take advantage of the new work benefits this upcoming year, and the vast majority of the 2,000 people who have already applied to the paid family leave program will be doing so to care for a newborn, according to the Oakland Tribune. Proponents of the law applaud the measure for acknowledging the changing face of the nuclear family, including increasing numbers of single-parent homes. “Mom isn’t home baking chocolate chip cookies waiting for the school bus to come home anymore. Workplaces have to reflect the lives we live,” said Netsy Firestein, director of the Labor Project for Working Families at University of California, Berkeley, according to the Oakland Tribune. The HSPH study emphasizes the health benefits that both newborns and new mothers experience when at least one parent is able to take some leave from work.

Paid leave is funded through a 0.08 percent payroll tax that amounts to a mere $4 a month on average, according to the Los Angeles Times. While the tax brings in about $129.3 million, the paid family leave program is estimated to cost between $300 million to $400 million per year. The paid leave program, however, neglects to provide job protection and return rights for employees who elect to take leave, the Oakland Tribune reports. Additionally, although California employees have been paying taxes toward this law since the beginning of January, only 22 percent of Californians were even aware that the law existed. Women of child-bearing age were among the most likely not to know about the new law, according to Ruth Milkman, director of the University of California-Los Angeles Institute of Industrial Relations, according to

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Media Resources: Oakland Tribune 7/1/04; Los Angeles Times 6/30/04; 7/1/04; The Washington Times 6/21/04

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