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Answers to Some Basic Questions About Family Leave

June 30, 2004|Debora Vrana

Many Californians are in the dark about the state's paid family leave law, according to a recent UCLA survey that found that only 22% of residents knew about it.

Here are answers to some common questions about the law, which goes into effect Thursday.

What is it?

Under the law, all workers who pay state disability insurance taxes in California can collect disability benefits for up to six weeks while they care for a new baby or sick parent, spouse, domestic partner or child. The law applies to all firms regardless of size, although workers at firms with fewer than 50 employees aren't guaranteed jobs when they return from leave.

What's new?

Previously, mothers were eligible for disability payments for time they spent away from work after giving birth. Now, fathers also can get disability payments while taking time off work to bond with a new baby, and mothers can get additional paid time off. In the past, state disability payments weren't available for workers who took time off to care for a sick parent, spouse, domestic partner or child.

Who qualifies?

Any worker who pays into the state disability insurance program and earns at least $300 in wages during any quarter within 15 to 18 months of applying for the leave. There are no requirements regarding the number of hours worked. To qualify for payments related to the arrival of a child, the time off must be taken within the first year of the baby's birth or adoption.

How much money can workers receive and for how long?

Employees can recoup as much as 55% of their wages for up to six weeks during a 12-month period. The maximum an employee can receive is $728 a week in 2004 and $840 in 2005.

Who pays and how much?

Workers are paying a family leave tax through a payroll deduction added in January to the existing disability insurance tax. The cost to workers averages $4 a month, or a maximum of $55 a year. Workers making minimum wage pay about $10 annually. The law will cost $300 million to $400 million a year, according to state estimates.

How do I apply?

To get a claim form, call (877) 238-4373. Send the form to the state Employment Development Department (www.edd.ca.gov).

-- Debora Vrana

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