The State Legislature in California is considering a law that could affect households with sick or injured family members, or those expecting a baby. These circumstances may seem unrelated but they do share a commonality: whether a family member is injured or pregnant, at some point an employed member of the household may need to take time off work to help.
In California, programs like State Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave (PFL) provide the kind of safety net required in such circumstances. The PFL program was enacted in 2002 and provides an extension to unemployment disability benefits for employed individuals who take a leave of absence from work to take care of an injured family member or new baby.
There are no federal statutes that provide any help for those suffering from work related injuries in the short term. California is one of only five states that provide state aid in these circumstances, and the programs have become essential to many Californians.
However, reports have shown that many families do not take advantage of the PFL program due to a fear of retaliation from their employers. There is concern among workers that their employers may skip over them for a promotion, reduce their pay, revoke company perks, or even fire them as a result of, or to avoid waiting for the end of, their paid absence.
The bill currently debated by the state’s lawmakers is an attempt to ease those fears. The bill protects all employees from any form of retaliation or monetary expression of disapproval from employers. While employees have rejoiced at the bill’s announcement, employer groups have responded unfavorably.
A representative for the California Chamber of Commerce voiced her concerns to Insurance Journal: “When you are out on a separate statutory leave of absence or an employer-provided leave of absence, you can access these wage replacement benefits to compensate you if it’s an unpaid leave. By itself, it is not an independent right to a leave of absence from work.”
The bill’s supporters argue that the bill is promising a right taxpayers deserve, and fund themselves. “This is a right that employees pay into,” said the Senator who authored the bill, in the same Insurance Journal article. “So all the bill says is you can’t retaliate for people taking it.”
“Everyone who pays into the tax is covered by the Paid Family Leave Act, but that act doesn’t contain an anti-retaliation provision,” a lawyer for the Employment Law Center in San Francisco also told Insurance Journal. She described the majority of the calls the center receives as being from anxiety-ridden callers trying to take a longer break from work to care for a newborn or an injured partner at home. “…But their employer says they can’t. They have to go right back to work,” she said. “They have to risk their job if they’re going to take care of them.”