California’s Paid Family Leave — What Constitutes “Family” Under the Law?

Contributed by Julia Parish, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center.

Sally, a 74-year old woman and longtime employee of a large national retail store, recently contacted The Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center (Legal Aid) for help.   Sally’s twin sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Her sister is widowed, their parents are deceased, and her only child lives out of state and is unable to help with her care.  The twin sisters have lived together for 15 years and Sally wants her twin to have the dignity of dying at home.  But Sally can’t receive Paid Family Leave because siblings are not currently included in the law’s definition of family.  She can’t afford to take unpaid time off, so she has been working nights in order to care for her sister during the day.

In 2004, California became the first state in the nation to implement a comprehensive Paid Family Leave (PFL) insurance program.  PFL is funded entirely by workers through paycheck deductions and provides up to six weeks of partial wage replacement to workers who must take time off to care for a seriously ill parent, child, spouse or registered domestic partner, or bond with their new child – making a leave of absence a practical possibility for working families, especially for low wage workers who depend on every paycheck to make ends meet.

However, families are diverse – and so are caregiving responsibilities.  At Legal Aid, we hear from many workers who are the only people available to care for their seriously ill siblings, in-laws, grandparents and grandchildren, yet they cannot receive PFL because these close family members are excluded from the program.  SB 770, introduced by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), would allow workers to receive Paid Family Leave benefits while caring for seriously ill grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and parents-in-law.

The narrow definition of family in PFL fails to account for the diversity of California households and the importance of caregiving by other close family members.  California has the second highest percentage of multi-generational households in the country.  Nearly half of Californians are single, and their closest relative may be a sibling.  In a recent study of caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients, over 40 percent of caregivers were not covered under the narrow definition of family in California’s Paid Family Leave law.

FL also benefits California businesses.  According to a 2011 study, Leaves That Pay: Employer and Worker Experiences with Paid Family Leave in California, the vast majority of employers reported that PFL had either a positive or no noticeable effect on business profitability, productivity and employee morale.  Small businesses were less likely to report any negative effects than large employers.

No one should have to choose between receiving a paycheck and caring for a loved one in a medical crisis.  By expanding the PFL program to include caregiving for seriously ill siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and parents-in-law, SB 770 will ensure that California workers can care for close family members without jeopardizing their economic well-being and will better reflect the reality and diversity of California families.

Workers with questions about their right to leave from work can call Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center’s Work & Family toll-free helpline at (800) 880-8047 or (415) 593-0033.

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California Work & Family: The Next Step…With Next Generation

By Jenya Cassidy

Great news!  The California Work & Family Coalition has a new home.  We will be joining the offices of Next Generation in San Francisco.  Next Generation is a national non-profit that promotes solutions to the biggest threats facing us: climate change and the growing economic uncertainty that diminishes prospects for children and families. With Next Generation, we will continue our work expanding all Californians’ access to family leave, paid sick days, and other benefits important to working families.  This new partnership will provide broader opportunities for both groups to create positive change, both in California and as part of the growing national movement to improve the economic security of children and families.

Since helping pass the country’s first Paid Family Leave law in 2002, the California Work and Family Coalition has continued to advance legislative campaigns to improve and expand California workers’ rights to put family first. In 2011, we passed SB 299 — a law that protects pregnant women from losing their health benefits while on leave. And for the past few years, we have been building momentum behind campaigns to win paid sick days for all workers, expand family leave rights to additional family members and enhance the rights of parents and caregivers in the workplace.  With Next Generation, we will have the opportunity to engage new partners in this important work.

In addition to advocating for new legislation, the Coalition has become the go-to source of information on existing California leave laws.  Our Paid Family Leave website, Family Leave Laws booklet, and Six Key Laws poster are in high demand.  Our Know Your Rights training has been an effective way to educate and involve community leaders and advocates in our statewide work.  Since recent studies show that low- income workers are less likely to be aware of Paid Family Leave, we know that passing a law is just the first step.  That’s why improved implementation and public education around existing law are fundamental goals of each Coalition member organization. We will have an even greater capacity to continue our education and leadership building with Next Generation. Creating and strengthening an informed, vocal constituency for family leave rights is our most important work.

California is unique ….We have stronger family leave laws than many states, but we also have a greater need. California has the highest poverty rate due to the high cost of living – especially in its cities. Many Californians work more than one job just to make ends meet. We have the highest rate of multiple generations living under one roof, and these workers benefit greatly when paid family leave and family leave rights are expanded.  We are excited that with Next Generation, we can build a movement in California that responds to the particular needs of our state while playing a role in the national movement for paid sick days and family leave rights.

Join us!

Jenya Cassidy directs the work of the California Work & Family Coalition. For information on how upcoming events or how to get involved, to

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We are excited to announce a new chapter in our work involving two powerful partnerships. Beginning July 1, the Labor Project will join forces with Family Values @ Work nationally and Next Generation in California to expand our efforts to win important work and family policies in California and across the country.

To build on our pioneering support of union bargaining on work and family issues and to strengthen alliances between labor and community coalitions, our national work and union resources will become a project of Family Values @ Work , a nationwide network of state coalitions organizing in 21 states. Through this relationship, which has been helping working families win in cities and states for the past 10 years — and with the continued leadership of Carol Joyner — we will deepen labor’s involvement in the grassroots movements that are winning change at the local level and creating momentum for new federal minimum standards. The Labor Project website and union resources, including our contract language database, will be housed with FV@W.

In California, the Labor Project has made great strides through the California Work and Family Coalition. The Coalition will continue and expand as a project of Next Generation, an organization working to improve prospects for children and families through public policy, private enterprise, family and individuals. Together, we’ve won a Paid Family Leave program — the first in the country — and passed other critical policies that are helping  families in California and setting a precedent for other states to follow. Under the continued leadership of Jenya Cassidy, the California Coalition will keep fighting to expand family leave, paid sick days and other family rights.

As you know, as of September 2013, I am moving on to a different role in the movement after 20 amazing years at the Labor Project.  I feel deeply honored to have worked with such a wide range of committed and strong activists for work and family issues, and hope that we will continue to work together in new ways.

I am very excited about our partnerships with Family Values @ Work and Next Generation, and for what the future holds. I know that these changes are the best way to sustain and grow our national efforts to strengthen the commitment of unions on work and family issues and to expand our California efforts around these policies.

In solidarity and gratitude for all you do,

Netsy Firestein, Executive Director

P. S. Celebrate our 20th anniversary and this transition to “Fund the Future” on July 26th in San Francisco – and come meet our new partners! More info at


“The upcoming chapter is going to bring us to new heights. With the nationwide momentum behind our efforts, we are poised to deepen our relationships and win more rights and benefits for working families in California and across the country.”
Art Pulaski, Labor Project Board Chair and Secretary-Treasurer, California Labor Federation

“Strengthening grassroots coalitions through the involvement of local labor unions has led to a record stretch of wins across the country. The Labor Project has been critical in making these connections, and we are proud to house this work.”
–Ellen Bravo, Executive Director, Family Values @ Work

The California Work and Family Coalition has an impressive track record of improving the lives of families across our state. We share their deep commitment to families, and their belief that California can and should lead the nation on these issues. We’re excited to have them join the team at Next Generation.”
–Ann O’Leary, Director, Children and Families Program, Next Generation

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