CA family leave bills aim to benefit LGBTQ workers

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday March 29, 2023
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Kaede Coronado-Acuña supports proposed legislation that would expand Paid Family Leave to chosen families. Photo: Courtesy Kaede Coronado-Acuña
Kaede Coronado-Acuña supports proposed legislation that would expand Paid Family Leave to chosen families. Photo: Courtesy Kaede Coronado-Acuña

When their friend goes in for gender-affirming surgery at a Bay Area health care facility in April, Fresno resident Kaede Coronado-Acuña has offered to drive them and help care for them post the procedure. In order to do so, they will need to take time off from their job as the GSA Network's Central Valley regional organizer.

"I offered to bring my friend because I remember how difficult it was for my spouse," said Coronado-Acuña, 23, whose partner had the same surgery. "I know it is going to be a hassle. Their family is not really that supportive, but we are family. Me and my friend, we are all family, so we take care of each other."

Coronado-Acuña, who is queer and nonbinary, has been in their job five months and is only allowed 40 hours of vacation time. In order to care for their friend, they will need to either use up a week of their vacation hours or apply to have it be covered as paid leave.

"I used my vacation time and some sick time with my spouse as well when they were getting their top surgery last year," noted Coronado-Acuña, who at the time was employed by the Fresno Economic Opportunity Commission.

Under a state law that went into effect January 1, Assembly Bill 1041 by Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), California expanded family leave provisions for workers to include their chosen family members in addition to their biological relatives, spouses, and children. It takes into account how many LGBTQ people are estranged from their biological families and have households comprised of close friends they may need to care for during times of illness.

Another bill signed into law last year by Governor Gavin Newsom, Senate Bill 951 by Senator María Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles), boosts leave benefits for lower- and middle-income employees to cover more of their regular income while they take time off to care for loved ones. LGBTQ family advocates, such as the San Francisco-based Our Family Coalition, had supported the bill.

It extends increased wage replacement rates for State Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave (PFL) that were set to sunset last year. Under the legislation's phased-in increase in benefits, by 2025, workers earning less than the state's average wage could receive up to 90% of their regular wages while taking leave.

This legislative session Wicks is carrying two new bills to further strengthen the state's paid leave provisions for workers and ensure LGBTQ people who provide care to their family and friends are not discriminated against by employers.

The Family Caregiver Anti-Discrimination Act, AB 524, would make it unlawful for employers to refuse to hire, fire, demote, or take other adverse employment action against workers because of their responsibilities to their biological or chosen family members. It passed out of the Assembly Judiciary Committee this month and awaits a hearing before the Committee on Labor and Employment.

AB 518, dubbed Paid Family Leave for Chosen Family, would give workers the right to receive Paid Family Leave wage replacement benefits while on leave. Currently, most California workers pay into the Paid Family Leave program through automatic paycheck deductions, but those with chosen family cannot currently access the program when they need to take time off to care for those loved ones.

Thus, advocates of the legislation argue it will ensure employees can afford to care for their chosen family members. It is awaiting a vote by the Assembly Insurance Committee.

"Who we count as members of our family and choose to care for includes so many more Californians than what our current laws recognize," stated Wicks. "Employee protections must continue to evolve so workers can care for those they love, and not get punished for it. AB 524 and AB 518 are important next steps to making that happen."

Equal Rights Advocates is supporting both bills. Jessica Stender, the organization's policy director and deputy legal director, told the Bay Area Reporter that it is confident the legislation will be passed by the Legislature because of the support for last year's bills.

"I think the Legislature showed the need and an understanding of having a more expansive definition for family to take into account workers who don't have close family or family that is not related by blood," said Stender, a straight ally.

In a recent video interview with the B.A.R. Coronado-Acuña noted that the concept of carrying for one's chosen family is not well understood. They added that they have been lucky to work for employers who do understand it.

"I feel like most people would be 'It's not your responsibility. It is not your blood relative, so you shouldn't have to take care of them,'" they said. "My response again would be that your family isn't always blood. Family is what you make it."

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