FMLA vs. Paid Family Leave

by Tia Benjamin - Updated September 26, 2017

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and California's Paid Family Leave (PFL) programs provide certain leave entitlements to employees caring for sick or injured family members or bonding with a new baby. The FMLA is federal legislation available to workers on a national level whereas the PFL is state legislation only available to California workers who contribute to the State Disability Insurance (SDI) program.

Eligibility and Application

To be covered by FMLA, an employer generally must have over 50 employees, whereas PFL applies to any employer with at least one employee. To be covered under PFL, the employer must participate in the California SDI program. To be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have worked for the company for at least 12 months (not necessarily consecutively) and should have worked a minimum of 1,250 regular hours (not including overtime) for the company in the preceding 12 months. To be eligible for PFL, the employee must have paid into SDI during the base period (usually six to 18 months prior to the claim). FMLA applications are processed by the employer, whereas applications for PFL must be sent to the California Employment Development Department (EDD). There is no waiting period for FMLA, but PFL requires a seven day waiting period (unless the leave is being taken by a new mother for bonding, in which case the waiting period has already been served during the SDI claim for pregnancy and birth).

Pay

Pay is probably the biggest difference between the two types of leave. PFL is — as the name suggests — a paid leave. Employees receive payment on a scale according to the amount of earnings during the base period. Generally, payment through PFL equates to approximately 55 percent of regular earnings. FMLA is a wholly unpaid leave, although vacation, sick leave and PFL may be taken concurrently with the leave so that the employee receives some pay.

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Leave Entitlement and Qualifying Reasons

Under FMLA, employees can receive up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12 month period. FMLA leave may be taken for the employee's own "serious health condition" to care for a spouse, parent or child with a serious health condition, or to bond with a new baby or newly fostered or adopted child. FMLA may be taken on a continuous or intermittent basis. PFL provides up to six weeks of leave to care for a "seriously ill" spouse, domestic partner, parent or child. It cannot be taken for the employee's own condition (SDI is available for this purpose). PFL may also be used to bond with an employee's or domestic partner's newborn, newly adopted or fostered child. Generally, PFL cannot be taken on an intermittent basis of less than seven days due to the waiting period.

Job Protection

FMLA provides employees with job protection in that they may not be fired or discriminated against for their use of the leave and must be provided the same or similar job upon return from leave. FMLA also allows an employee to maintain the same health benefits as if she was working. PFL does not obligate an employer to hold open a job position for the employee to return to and does not address health benefits. However, PFL is usually taken concurrently with FMLA or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), both of which provide protections for the employee.

About the Author

For more than a decade, Tia Benjamin has been writing organizational policies, procedures and management training programs. A C-level executive, she has more than 15 years experience in human resources and management. Benjamin obtained a Bachelor of Science in social psychology from the University of Kent, England, as well as a Master of Business Administration from San Diego State University.

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