New evidence shows CA paid family leave is good for workers and employers alike

New research shows workers and families are benefiting from California’s paid family leave law – and most employers say it’s had either positive effects or no impact on their business.

Under California’s first-in-the-nation paid family leave (PFL) program, enacted in 2004, workers who become new parents or care for an ill family member can take up to 6 weeks of partially paid leave (55% of a worker’s weekly pay).

Researchers at Columbia University who analyzed the effects of the PFL program on the labor market and new mothers’ use of leave found PFL doubles the average length of leave for new mothers – from 3 weeks to at least 6 weeks.

These effects were most evident among mothers from economically disadvantaged groups – including non-college educated, unmarried, Hispanic, and Black moms – whose average length of leave increased from 1-2 weeks to 4-7 weeks. The research also suggests that PFL increases work hours and wage income for those mothers who returned to work.

On the employer’s end of the experience, another study found business owners’ fears of increased costs and abuse of the policy were unfounded. Six years after California implemented PFL, more than nine in ten employers reported they were not aware of any instances of abuse of the program. Small businesses were less likely than larger companies to report negative effects. Other findings from employers include:

  • 89% reported “positive” or “no noticeable” effects on productivity.
  • 91% reported “positive” or “no noticeable” effects on profitability or performance.
  • 96% reported “positive” or “no noticeable” effects on turnover.

Researchers also found that PFL increased retention among workers in low-quality jobs (paying less than $20 per hour and providing employer-paid health insurance): 83% who used PFL returned to the same employer, compared with 74% of those who did not use PFL. There are also positive effects on workers’ ability to care for a new child and arrange child care, and increased duration of breastfeeding for all new mothers who used PFL.

Locally, the Washington Family Leave Coalition is working to ensure people in our state also have access to paid leave. The state’s Family Medical and Leave Insurance program was established in 2007, and is currently scheduled for implementation in 2015.

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