In the News

Despite Economic Woes, Sun Shines on California’s Paid Family Leave Program
Sloan Work and Family Research Network, January 26, 2011

By Mary Curlew

Two new reports released this month shine some positive light on California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) program. Despite some initial concerns that this policy would impose excessive demands on employers, especially small businesses, all ready burdened by a rough economic climate, research by Eileen Appelbaum and Ruth Milkman has shown just the opposite.  Leaves That Pay: Employer and Worker Experiences with Paid Family Leave in California, found that California’s PFL had either a “positive effect” or “no noticeable effect” on productivity (89%), profitability/performance (91%), turnover (96%), and employee morale (99%). In fact, small businesses were less likely than larger businesses to report any negative effect from PFL. In addition, employers reported cost savings from retention and employee use of PFL instead of, or in combination with, other employer benefits such as paid sick or vacation time.

While Leaves that Pay was designed to study the impact of California’s PFL on employers and employees alike, the second report,  A Guide to Implementing Paid Family Leave: Lessons from California, by Netsy Firestein, Labor Project for Working Families, and Ann O’Leary and Zoe Savitskey, Berkeley Law, focuses more on policy. Leaves that Pay interviewed 253 employers and 500 individuals about their experiences with California’s PFL program. The Guide gathered information about the benefits and challenges of PFL from legislative aides, attorneys, work/family advocates, researchers and the state agency that administers PFL inorder to provide, “key lessons learned in passing and implementing California’s Paid Family Leave program.” Together these reports offer both a comprehensive assessment of California’s PFL and insight into what challenges face states looking to create PFL legislation.

One issue raised by both reports is the lack of awareness among employees regarding PFL benefits. Appelbaum and Milkman found that only 28.1% of respondents were aware of PFL in mid 2007, three years after implementation. Low income workers, those most in need of PFL, had even lower levels of awareness. Recommendations made by the Guide to states developing their own PFL include:

  1. Expand job protection laws for workers who are eligible for PFL but not covered under FMLA
  2. Create an “outreach and education campaign about the benefits and requirements of PFL that is robust, ongoing, and reaches underserved communities.”
  3. Ensure a close working relationship between advocacy organizations and the program’s administrative agency to increase education, outreach and the general success of the PFL program.

Do you see a sunny future for other states considering paid family leave programs?  What is the forecast in your state? Any suggestions on how to improve employee awareness of PFL programs?