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Bonding Better with the California Paid Family Leave (PFL)

By IntFormalities
Published on June 4, 2024
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

California created the first paid family leave (PFL) program in 2002. Over two decades later, many other US states have followed suit. The state-level insurance program is designed for California employees who need to take time off work to care for family members or bond with a new child.  

In this article, we explore the benefits of paid family leave for California workers. If you need time off to address family needs or bond with a new child, keep reading to learn more!

A woman holding a baby livingly in the kitchen while enjoying paid family leave in California.
Over 18 million California workers get up to 70% of their weekly wages during family leave.

What Is California Paid Family Leave (PFL)?

The PFL program, also known as Family Temporary Disability Insurance (FTDI), is a state-powered insurance program administered by the State Disability Insurance (SDI) in California. PFL aims to provide financial support to eligible workers when they need to take time off for specific family-related reasons. These reasons include bonding with a new child, caring for a seriously ill family member, or taking leave due to a family member’s military deployment.

How Does California PFL Work?

The CA PFL program offers a family leave wage replacement for up to eight weeks. Depending on your income level, you may receive 60% to 70% of your average weekly earnings, up to a maximum amount set by the state during this period.

Eligible middle- to high-income earners receive a 60% benefit rate, while low-income earners receive 70% of their wages earned 5 to 18 months before their before their California family leave application date.

As of 2024, the maximum weekly benefit for PFL is $1,620. However, if Senate Bill 951 adjusts the benefit calculation, low-income earners may receive up to 90% of the state average weekly wage, while middle-income earners may receive up to 70%.  

Income LevelCurrent PFL Percentage Potential PFL Percentage 
Low 70%90%

The Paid Family Leave program aligns with the parental leave policies in California. It is fully funded by employees’ contributions from their weekly or bi-weekly paychecks, not employers. However, it’s not the same as paid sick leave for a serious illness or injury. 

Who Is Eligible for Paid Family Leave in California? 

Though PFL is open to California workers, not all qualify for the short-term wage repayment benefit. The first requirement is to be unable to work or earn wages when off work for family-related reasons. For example, if you are a new parent who has a baby through childbirth, adoption, or foster care placement, you may need time off work to care for and bond with your new child. In such a case, you can apply for PFL to receive a percentage of your monthly income while you are away from work.

Other PFL eligibility California criteria include:

  • Experiencing a loss of wages due to qualifying events (to bond with a new child, participate in a family member’s military deployment, or care for a seriously ill family member). 
  • Being an employee or an active job seeker at the time of the family leave
  • Earning a minimum of $300 and paying State Disability Insurance (SDI) deductions during the base period
  • Filling and submitting a claim form not earlier than the first day of family leave and not later than 41 days after the family leave

Please note that being a qualified employee does not guarantee automatic qualification for PFL benefits. You may not receive CA PFL insurance benefits if you are eligible for SDI, Unemployment Insurance, Workers’ Compensation, or are already receiving these benefits.

What Are the Documents Required to Claim PFL?

Though citizenship and immigration status are not criteria for eligibility, you must provide the following documents when applying for PFL:

  • Medical certificate from the ill family member’s doctor 
  • Evidence of relationship with the care recipient or seriously ill child 
  • Proof of a qualifying event for a military leave claim 

Filing your claim more than 41 days after your California family leave begins may result in losing the benefits. So, it’s best to file your claim immediately after going on leave. 

Can Self-Employed People Apply for CA PFL? 

Self-employed California residents can apply for PFL. The CA EDD has a Disability Insurance Elective Coverage (DIEC) program for independent contractors and entrepreneurs who want PFL benefit payments without paying into SDI. Such people can get benefits when taking time off work for qualifying events. The eligibility requirements include:

  • Having a business or working as an independent contractor 
  • Earning a minimum net profit of $4,600 yearly, with a significant portion from your business or independent contractor job
  • Owning a valid operational license, if required by your job
  • Running the business full-time as of the claim start date
  • Not operating a seasonal business 
  • Retaining your business in the DIEC program for two calendar years unless it closes down or moves out of the state

How To Claim California Paid Family Leave (PFL)

You can apply for the California PFL online via the California Employment Development Department (EDD) website, SDI Online, or by submitting Form DE 2501F for PFL Benefits via mail:

Calculate your potential benefit payment using the Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave Calculator before applying. However, ensure you have your payslips for the previous 18 months before the claim date. Your expected lost wages include:

  • Hourly pay, salary, or job payment 
  • Bonuses, residuals, or commissions
  • Overtime or vacation pay 

What Additional Rights Can I Claim Besides PFL? 

If you are eligible for CA PFL, you may have heard of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Both statutes protect employees’ jobs when on leave for qualifying events, like caregiver leave in California for up to 12 months. 

However, unlike paid family leave, which provides benefit payments, the FMLA and CFRA only provide job protection, not paid family leave. 

Get Paid When on Family Leave

The California Paid Family Leave program offers up to eight weeks of income replacement for eligible individuals who need to take time off work to care for ill family members or bond with their children. You can file a claim once you meet the qualifying criteria.

If you qualify for CA PFL, many SDI self-service options exist for applying. You can also speak with healthcare partners near you to find other coverage options. 


What is the fastest way to apply for PFL?

The quickest way to file your PFL claim is through SDI Online. You can upload Form DE 2501F via mail. 

Can I claim PFL without paying into SDI?

Only self-employed individuals and independent contractors can get PFL benefits without paying SDI dues. Employees must pay to qualify

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