Can I take a leave from work to care for my child?

More than 65% of households in the United States are dual-income households.  Many of these households consist of at least one child.  In a nation that has seen a steep rise in both parents holding full time jobs, it comes as no surprise that state leave laws in the employment context, particularly those laws affecting children, have shifted accordingly.

California is no exception and, in fact, has a number of family-friendly laws to accommodate households with children.  These laws are especially vital when a parent cannot afford to hire outside help to take care of their children.  For example, the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”), allows qualified employees to take up to12 weeks of unpaid leave to bond with a newborn, newly adopted or foster child (or the child of a spouse or domestic partner).  The federal version of the CFRA, called the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), offers the same protection.

Under California’s Paid Family Leave law, an employee can receive income replacement if he or she is taking time off to bond with their baby or newly adopted/foster child, or to take care of their child with a serious health condition.  This law provides up to 6 weeks of partial pay—that is, 55% of an employee’s weekly wage.  Employees can take Paid Family Leave concurrently with their FMLA or CFRA leave.  This means that they can get 12 weeks of leave, and also get paid for a portion of that leave.  An employee can even receive paid sick leave and Paid Family Leave to total a 100% of their wages (i.e., by combining the 55% benefit Paid Family Leave provides, with the remaining 45% through sick leave).

Kin Care is another California Law that protects employees.  This law allows employees to apply half of their accrued sick leave to care for an ill close family member, which includes children (biological, adopted, step, child of a registered domestic partner).  The illness can include the common cold or the flu, in addition to serious health conditions covered by FMLA/CFRA. An employer cannot deny an employee this right or discharge or threaten to discharge, demote, or discriminate against the employee for exercising their rights.

What’s more, recent changes in the last year have affected family-friendly leave laws.  On October 11, 2015, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 579 into law.  Among other things, this law expanded an employee’s rights under School/Day Care Activities Leave.  Under the prior version of the law, employees (who work for employers with 25 or more employees) who are parents, guardians, or custodial grandparents of children in grades K-12, are entitled to take time off to participate in school/day care activities under specified conditions.  The new law provides additional circumstances under which employees can take this leave, including to address a child care provider emergency, a school emergency, finding, enrolling, and reenrolling a child in a school or with a child care provider.  Moreover, the law expands eligible employees to include stepparents and foster parents.

California is one of many states to amend its laws to adapt to the new familial climate. If you have been discriminated or retaliated against for taking a leave to care for your child, you should consult an experienced employment attorney to determine your rights.

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