Thursday, December 30, 2010

Employment Law for Working Parents

Some time ago, when my daughter was a toddler, I had a mommy awakening moment. I had started a new job and the workload was heavy. I was trying (and failing) to stay on top of everything but it required putting in long hours. Despite that, I thought I was doing a decent job of balancing work and home life.
My daughter was going through a big imitation phase and liked to copy everything we did. At the park one Saturday morning she stated loudly “I’m Mommy!” then proceeded to type on her pretend Blackberry. As I watched she laughed, clearly delighted at her impression of me. “That Mommy! That what you do, Mommy!” she said. “That all you do!”
I had thought I was doing a pretty good job making sure I was home and spending time with my family. I rarely worked late, even though I needed to. Instead I often brought my laptop home and I always checked email from my Blackberry. That day was a huge reality check for me. Even though I thought my daughter would appreciate me being there, all she saw was me ignoring her in favor of the Blackberry. From that point on I decided to make it a priority to spend quality time with my kids, attend the events that are important to them and not be the parent in the corner, making the whispered business call and emailing throughout the performance.
I’ll make another post later about how I reorganized my work hours and organized my tasks to better accomplish this. But this post will focus on getting the time off to attend functions and care for your children in the first place. I am very fortunate to have an awesome boss who understands the importance of family, and actually encourages us to put them first and attend everything we can. But I’ve been in positions before where that was not considered a priority, and in those situations it’s important to know what you’re legally entitled to.
This post talks about California resources and legislation because that’s where I’m based, but you can check your own state legislation here. None of this information is a substitution for checking with your employer’s HR department, and knowing what’s in your employer’s policies, handbook, and collective bargaining agreements, as applicable.
California Employment Law for Parents - Summary:
Unpaid time off for pregnancy
Pregnancy Disability Leave provides up to 16 weeks (unpaid) leave for disability related to pregnancy and/or the birth of a child. The standard amount of PDL time allotted for a vaginal delivery is 6 weeks, and 8 weeks for a c-section.
Paid time off for pregnancy
California’s SDI program benefit period for a normal pregnancy and delivery is generally from four weeks before the birth and up to six weeks after, due to pregnancy related disability. You will not be paid at 100% of salary – see this chart of the current payment amounts based on your typical earned income.
Unpaid time off for birth/bonding
California has a very generous leave provision in comparison to many other states for the birth or adoption of a child. Both the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) provide that a parent may take up to 12 weeks for the birth of and/or bonding with a child. Most employers integrate the leave so that the 12 weeks run concurrently. Employers must provide the best of the benefits from both acts. Some highlights include the use of intermittent leave for bonding. If a parent wants to take some, or all of the 12 weeks (480 hours) on an intermittent basis for bonding, they may do so as long as the time is taken within one year from the child’s birth or adoption. This means that a parent could potentially take every Wednesday off after the child’s birth until their leave allowance runs out. The Act also entitles health insurance benefits to continue, and if the employee is unpaid, may enable the associated payroll deductions to be taken out upon return as opposed to while the employee is not receiving income.
The law allows an employer to mandate that employees use their own paid leave time concurrently with FMLA and/or CFRA. You would need to check whether your employer requires this or not.
To be eligible for the leave, parents must have worked 1,250 regular hours in the 12 months preceding the request, have been an employee for 12 months (not necessarily consecutive months), and the company must have at least 50 employees.
Paid time off for bonding
The SDI program also introduced a new provision, called Paid Family Leave (PFL). Workers who pay into SDI are also entitled to 6 weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn, newly adopted or newly placed foster child. The program also allows relatives to claim up to 6 weeks of paid leave to care for a seriously ill family member – for example a spouse or domestic partner who is recovering from childbirth or is disabled due to pregnancy. The payment information is the same as SDI above.
Combining leave
Employees can combine the various leave provisions to maximize the amount of leave they receive due to pregnancy and birth of a child. For example, a woman who is placed on bedrest 4 weeks before the birth of the child, and who then had a vaginal delivery would be legally entitled to 10 weeks (4+6) of Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL), followed by 12 weeks of FMLA/CFRA, for a total of 22 weeks of protected leave. Generally, the 12 weeks of the PDL would also be eligible for SDI payments through the state, and 6 of the 12 weeks of FMLA/CFRA would be eligible for PFL payments.
So, in total, the employee would be entitled to 22 weeks of unpaid leave, 16 of which could be subsidized through the state. This does not include whether the employer has their own paid disability programs or whether they allow paid leave to be taken concurrently with the PDL, FMLA or CFRA.
Pumping at work
The California Labor Code provides that employers must allow breaks for mothers to express breast milk. They must also provide a private room for this purpose (a bathroom is not acceptable). The break time does not have to be compensated, but employees may combine their paid breaks with breaks for pumping.
Time off for school or daycare activities
California Labor Code Section 230.8 provides for up to 40 hours each year (up to 8 hours per month) to participate in any activity sponsored by the school or daycare facility. This could include volunteering in your child's classroom, participating in field trips, parent-teacher conferences, or special events.
Any full time employee, regardless of the shift they work, is entitled to 40 hours of leave. The leave could be vacation, personal leave or comp time. You may also take unpaid time if that is an option offered by the employer. The choice of what type of leave to take is the employee’s. Part time employees receive a proportionate amount of leave. Night shift employees may also ask for time off to sleep in order to prepare for a daytime event.
You must provide advance notice of your need for leave, and if required, provide your employer with written proof of your participation. The employer may not refuse the request if the employee is eligible.
To be eligible for the leave, you must be:
·         A parent, guardian or grandparent with custody of a child enrolled in a California public or private school (K-12) or licensed child day care facility
·         An employee of a business with 25+ employees at the same location
Teachers are considered full time employees for purposes of the legislation, and the school is required to pay for a substitute. Generally teachers are required to take leave without pay unless their collective bargaining agreement provides for something different.
Make-up time
An employee may request to make up time off within the same 40 hour workweek. So, for example, if you need to leave an hour early on a Tuesday to take your son to the dentist, you could make up the time by taking ½ hour lunches on Wednesday and Thursday, and you wouldn’t have to use your own paid leave. However, the decision to grant the request is entirely at the discretion of the employer.
I hope this summary of the regulations is helpful. If you have questions, please feel free to leave a comment and I will answer as best I can!
Organized Working Mom

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