Here’s How to Ensure California’s Paid Family Leave is Available to All Workers

By Sukhdip Purewal Boparai

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Baby S. joining Mama during morning emails. Photo credit: Sukhdip Purewal Boparai

All week I’ve seen friends and colleagues post social media content introducing their work-from-home “coworkers” to the world — their kids who partake in fun art projects, but are mostly interrupting video conference calls. I myself have a 5 month old “coworker” — she sleeps on the job quite a bit!

Working from home and social distancing are examples of our collective public health effort to protect each other and prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. Taking these measures enhances our community’s health and wellbeing — yet this is not an option for many.

Low-wage workers — disproportionately people of color and immigrants — are performing essential work like delivering packages and stocking grocery stores.

Health and financial stakes are especially high for low-wage workers at this time. They can’t afford to stay home without paid sick leave and they’re at greater risk of exposure to the virus and risk inadvertently bringing the virus home to their loved ones.

California’s Employment Development Department (EDD) recently extended the state’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) policy to workers who need to stop working in order to care for a family member who is sick or quarantined due to COVID-19. PFL is entirely taxpayer funded and provides working Californians 60% or 70% of their usual wages for up to 6 weeks to take care of a seriously ill family member.

We know from our research with California Work & Family Coalition last year that this isn’t enough. While the expansion is clearly responsive to the pandemic, it neglects to ensure that all Californians will have equitable access to tend to their loved ones during this trying time. Our survey of 700+ working family caregivers across California revealed that higher income earners:

  • Were more likely to know about PFL as a resource
  • Were able to work from home and have schedule flexibility
  • Had paid time off, health benefits, and retirement plans through their employer

We can ensure that everyone can access paid family leave

1. Dedicate resources to outreach and education

2. Ensure job protection

3. Ensure 100% wage replacement for low-wage workers

4. Streamline the application process

Other economic security policies like minimum wage, unemployment insurance, medical leave, and paid sick days also require our attention. The California Work & Family Coalition is advocating for improvements to these policies in California right now.

Nationally, we are behind in establishing economic securities for working people in the US.

The Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which passed last week, is a step in the right direction. It is the first ever federal paid leave policy for private sector workers and would provide limited emergency paid leave.

But the Families First Coronavirus Response Act doesn’t go far enough — it excludes millions of workers, and it sunsets at the end of the year.

The inequities in our access to time off are much more visible and expansive during this global pandemic, giving us an opportunity to rethink our economic security systems, how we think about caregiving, and how we can do better for all workers.

What actions can you take?

To learn more about our evaluation of California PFL with the California Work & Family Coalition, read the full research report, Understanding Working & Caregiving of California Paid Family Leave.

Sukhdip Purewal Boparai is a Senior Research Associate at Human Impact Partners. Sukh conducts and elevates rigorous research to advance health equity, with a commitment to true community collaboration.

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