Continuing her work to strengthen California’s landmark Paid Family Leave Program, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, recently introduced a bill to give more employees job protection while caring for a new child or a seriously ill family member.

Senate Bill 406, which will be up for a vote in the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee on April 22, will ensure that more employees will be able to utilize their Paid Family Leave benefits without fear of losing their jobs. Currently, more than 40 percent of Californians do not have adequate legal protections to take paid family leave without risking job loss.

“No one should be fired — or even fear being fired — for taking time out to care for a new baby or a sick family member,” Jackson said. “This bill will help ensure that more Californians can attend to their family responsibilities and access a benefit they’re already paying into without fear of losing their jobs.”

SB 406 would expand California law to ensure employees working for companies with five or more employees have job protection for Paid Family Leave, and that that job protection extends to care not only for a parent, spouse, domestic partner or child, but also to a grandparent, grandchild, sibling, in-law or child, regardless of their age.

“Family Leave allows parents to create lasting bonds with new children and helps ill family members recover more quickly. Most Californians pay into the Paid Family Leave program, but too many cannot access the benefits for fear of losing their jobs, due to the limited reach of the California Family Rights Act,” said Sharon Terman, senior staff attorney and director of the Work and Family Program at the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, a sponsor of the bill. “It’s time to update the law to ensure that no one has to choose between caring for a loved one and keeping their job. We look forward to working with Senator Jackson to ensure passage of SB 406.”

A little more than a decade ago, California became the first state in the nation to enact the Paid Family Leave Program to provide partial pay to workers — funded entirely by employee payroll deductions through the State Disability Insurance system — to take up to six weeks off to bond with a new child or provide care for a seriously ill family member.

Since its implementation in 2004, almost two million Californians have taken Paid Family Leave. Yet still far too few Californians know about the program and are taking it. According to a 2011 study, among those who were aware of PFL and needed leave but did not apply for it, 37 percent said they did not apply because they feared they would be fired or face other consequences at work.

Last July, Jackson’s Senate Bill 770 took effect. It strengthened California’s Paid Family Leave Program by expanding it to include care for seriously ill grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and in-laws to more accurately reflect the caregiving responsibilities of California families.

— Lisa Gardiner is the communications director for state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson.