*By Amaya Ramsay-Malone
When Alfonso’s baby daughter was born, he was told she needed to get blood tests performed every other day for two weeks straight. Feeling scared for his baby’s health and stressed about finding the time to care for her in such a crucial moment of her life, he requested that his employer allow him to take leave from work. His employer informed him he had three days to return to work, or he would be terminated. He sought help, but found that the law did not protect his right to leave to care for his family, because his employer was not large enough.
Since then, in coalition with other organizations, we have worked to support the implementation of new laws that protect employees who need to take time off to care for their loved ones’ medical needs or to bond with their newborn children, even if they work for smaller employers. As a result, when his second and third children were born, Alfonso was able to take time off to bond with them in their first year of life, knowing that his job was there for him when he returned.
This Father’s day, we’re thinking about the many fathers just like Alfonso who miss out on time with their newborn children in those fundamental first moments of their lives because they have to work. Fathers play a crucial role their children’s early development: there is a well-documented positive association between father involvement and children’s cognitive skills.
Despite substantial progress over the years in recognizing all caregivers’ essential contributions to their children’s growth and development, many fathers in California still slip through the cracks. Workers paid low wages in particular often suffer as the paid leave they receive from the State does not fully replace their wages for the time they take off work, forcing them and their families to take a substantial pay cut for any time they take off to bond with their young children – or to forgo leave completely.
In 2020, for example, California workers earning less than $20,000 per year had the lowest rate of Paid Family Leave utilization for eligible workers. By contrast, workers earning between $80,000 and $99,000 per year had four times the utilization rate of those workers in the lowest wage bracket. This is particularly cruel because Paid Family Leave is paid for entirely through worker contributions; yet some workers cannot access the very benefits they pay for.
However, a senate bill introduced in February 2022 by Senator María Elena Durazo, co-sponsored by Legal Aid at Work, and a matching budget ask are attempting to address this disparity and provide lower wage workers with the support they need to take time off work to care for their family members. These measures are the next step in ensuring that all workers have access to the leave that they need. SB 951, if passed, would increase the percentage of a worker’s weekly salary that they can receive while on Paid Family Leave or State Disability Insurance to 90% of their regular pay. This would start in 2025 and apply to workers making 70% or less of the state’s average wage (about $57,000/year). Workers making above 70% of the state’s average wage would be eligible for 70% wage replacement.
This Father’s day, SB 951 represents the hope that taking time off for caregiving will become more accessible to all families in California. All fathers should have the opportunity to take time off of work to care for and bond with their children. For workers paid low wages, knowing that their job is waiting for them when they get back and that they will receive sufficient wage replacement to feed their families is essential to being able to take this time off.
*Amaya Ramsay-Malone is a law clerk with the Work & Family Program at Legal Aid at Work