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Most California fathers have a legal right to take time off from work to bond with their babies without being retaliated against or losing their benefits. Employees would be wise to tell their employer in writing at least 30 days before they plan to take time off. 

By Christopher Dolan and Mari Bandoma Callado

My partner and I are waiting for the arrival of our baby at the end of June. We are adopting her and cannot wait to become parents. I will be asking for some time off from work to bond with our baby and would like to know more about my rights as an adoptive father. How much time off can I take? Am I entitled to paid leave? Do I get to keep my health benefits? In the three years I have worked for my company, I noticed that not many men I work with take time off to bond with their newborns. I am worried about being retaliated against for requesting paternity leave. I work for a small tech company with 15 employees in Oakland.  Thank you, and I hope you have a great Father’s Day! 

— James

 Hi James. Thank you for your question. Congratulations and a Happy Father’s Day to you, too.  It is unfortunate there is still a stigma against taking paternity leave. Let’s start with paternity law here in California.

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) requires California employers with five or more employees nationwide to provide employees who worked at least 1,250 hours in one year just up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to bond with a newborn, newly adopted or foster child within the first year of birth or placement in the home. Employees do not have to take this leave all at once, as time off from work can be taken intermittently. 

Employees must provide “reasonable notice” of their intent to take baby bonding or family leave.  We recommend providing notice in writing and including the dates you plan to begin your leave, the anticipated duration of that leave and a brief explanation of why you are taking that leave (e.g., to bond with an adopted baby). How much notice is required depends, but it would be prudent to notify your employer at least 30 days in advance of your plans to take time off. 

Benefits and payment 

If you have health benefits through your employer, they will continue while on CFRA leave. Note that you may have to pay for your portion of your premiums. 

Unfortunately, your employer is not required to pay you while you are on leave (unless your employer pays employees on CFRA leave), but here are a couple of ways you can receive payment during paternity leave.  

State benefits: California offers paid family leave that provides up to 60% or 70% of weekly wages, depending on income, for a maximum of eight weeks to bond with your newborn, adopted child or foster child within the first year. To be eligible for this partial wage replacement, you must have paid into State Disability Insurance during the base period. Most pay stubs note this payment as “CASDI.” To learn about eligibility and apply for paid family leave, go to edd.ca.gov

Paid sick leave: California’s paid sick time law gives employees time that employees can use to recover from physical/mental illness or injury; to seek medical diagnosis, treatment or preventive care as well as to take care of a family member who is ill or needs medical diagnosis, treatment, or preventive care; or to address needs that may arise if the worker is a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offense or stalking. 

Therefore, you may also use your paid sick days if your baby gets sick or you want to take your child to medical appointments. Your employer may not require you to use sick leave; however, you and your employer can mutually agree that you may use sick leave. Note that some California cities have their own sick time laws which may provide additional rights.

Accrued paid time off: Your employer may require you to use vacation time unless you receive paid family leave from the Employment Development Department to bond with a new child. 

Retaliation/returning to work

California laws protect employees from retaliation. Retaliation occurs when an employer takes an “adverse action” against an employee because s/he has exercised a “protected legal right” such as requesting parental leave. An adverse action is any act by an employer that negatively and significantly affects the terms and conditions of one’s employment such as termination, demotion, suspension, reduction in pay or hours and any other action that would discourage a reasonable person from pursuing their rights. It is unlawful for an employer to violate an employee’s family leave rights and retaliate against an employee who takes time off to bond with their baby.  

When you return to work after parental leave, your employer must return you to the same or comparable position you had before the leave. If you notice any changes to your job title, duties, reduction of pay or hours, hear any offensive comments about taking time off, consult with an attorney to help protect your rights. 

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Christopher B. Dolan is the owner of the Dolan Law Firm. Mari Bandoma Callado is a senior associate attorney in our Oakland office. We serve clients throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and California from our offices in San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles. Email questions and topics for future articles to: help@dolanlawfirm.com. Each situation is different, and this column does not constitute legal advice. We recommend that you consult with an experienced trial attorney to fully understand your rights.