The start of a new year is exciting for many reasons, one of which is the application of new laws passed in the year prior. The state of California recently passed a series of new laws aimed at health and employers that went into effect on January 1, 2021. Today we’re going to explore the updates to the Paid Family Leave Act in California as it applies to you as a caregiver and your family. We will also discuss the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and how the two intersect to protect California caregivers.* You are welcome to view the updated laws (SB-1383) and (SB-1123) in their entirety to see the exact verbiage, but we will give you a summary of the updates that most likely pertain to your situation.
*Disclaimer: This summary is provided for informational purposes only and is not in any way a source of, or substitute for, legal counsel.
Summary of the Changes
What is it?
Before we dive into the changes, let’s discuss what it is we’re talking about. The Paid Family Leave Act (PFL) is a wage replacement program that helps to supplement income for workers who need time off of work to care for a sick relative or bond with a new child.
This is separate from, and works in partnership with, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) which includes job protection while you’re away on leave. These two types of leave (paid/wage replacement and job-protected) can be taken concurrently, but they are not the same.
Who is Eligible?
CFRA: To be eligible for job-protected leave in California, you need to demonstrate a need to provide significant care for a loved one (a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, grandparent, grandchild, parent-in-law, or sibling) and be employed by a company with at least 5 employees.
PFL: The first criterion for determining eligibility for wage replacement (paid caregiving leave) is a demonstrated need to provide significant care for a loved one (a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, grandparent, grandchild, parent-in-law, or sibling). The next criterion is whether or not you currently pay into SDI (State Disability Insurance) or whether you have paid into it recently. Check your pay stubs and talk to your employer to ensure you meet these criteria.
What has changed?
There are major changes to both laws that expand the protections and ease eligibility requirements, so let’s dive into those major updates now.
- The Definition of Caregiver. Starting with the CFRA (the job-protected leave act) and ultimately extended to the PFL (the paid/wage replacement leave act), one of the most significant changes in 2021 that will impact you and your family is the expanded definition of who is a legally recognized caregiver. The changes were made to recognize different cultural, multi-generational, and diverse (non-traditional) family relationships.
Now you are recognized as a caregiver when providing significant care to any of the following: children, spouses, domestic partners, parents, grandparents, grandchildren, parents-in-law, and siblings. (Previously, only direct parents, spouses, domestic partners, and children counted.)
- The Time Off Allowance. Previously, the time off allowance for paid leave was maximized at 6 weeks, but as of July 1, 2020, this was expanded to 8 weeks that can be taken all at once or in parts over a 12-month period. The job-protected leave, CFRA, was expanded to 12 weeks.
- The Necessary Size of the Business You Work For. Prior to January 1, 2021, to be eligible for job-protected leave (CFRA), you needed to work for a company that had 50 or more employees working within a 75-mile radius. As of January 1, 2021, however, this minimum business size threshold was reduced to businesses with 5 or more employees regardless of where they’re located. This change made millions of additional workers eligible for job-protected leave in the state of California.
Note: This portion only applies to the job-protected leave (CFRA), not to paid leave because there is no business size requirement for paid leave eligibility.
- Military Expansion. The paid leave act (PFL) has expanded coverage to military families as of January 1, 2021.
How can I apply?
You can apply for paid family leave (PFL) and job-protected leave (CFRA) on the EDD (California Employment Development Department) website.
The CFRA job-protected leave for caregivers in California originally only applied to employers that had 50+ employees (and had a few location-based exemptions for employers). As of January 1, 2021, the new law has expanded these job protections to caregivers employed at companies with as few as 5 employees and removed location-based exemptions. These changes make millions of caregivers in the state of California now eligible for benefits on leaves taken for caregiving with a start date on or after January 1, 2021.
When CFRA is paired with PFL (paid leave), caregivers in California can now take up to 12 job-protected weeks off within a 12-month period and receive between 60-70% of their wages reimbursed for 8 of those weeks.
The state of California is one of the most progressive states for recognizing the necessary role and sacrifices caregivers make in society. As a caregiver, you’re faced with new challenges every day. The California Caregiver Resource Centers were created with you both in mind and at heart to be a free resource as you navigate the challenging role you’re in. We would love to connect you with your local Center, who can talk more about local programs for caregivers, answer your questions, and explain how they can best support you.
Family Caregiver Alliance, home to Bay Area CRC, hosted a webinar with information about these updates, as well. To view the webinar, click here.