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California's recent passage of a paid family leave bill for workers may be the first in the nation, but don't expect it to be the last. Reason: The new law, which becomes effective July 1, 2004, is putting pressure on more than two dozen other states that are actively considering similar legislation.

Relatively few employees actually take leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), in part because it only promises unpaid, job-protected leave. Employers report that just 7 percent of their workers have taken FMLA leave, up from 3.6 percent in 1995, according to a Labor Department study. But California's action will likely spur the popularity of FMLA and raise the issue's prominence as a workplace entitlement.

The new California law will let employees take up to six weeks paid leave for the birth of a child or to care for sick family members. Small businesses (under 50 employees) won't be required to hold a job open for a worker on family leave.

The money to pay for the program will be raised through employee payroll deductions, and run by the state's temporary disability program. Experts predict employees will lose about $27 per year from payroll deductions. Employers may require workers to take up to two weeks of paid vacation before paid family leave would begin, and the law caps the benefit at $728 a week.

The National Federation of Independent Business estimates it will cost $5,000 per paid leave per worker, including pay for temporary workers, training and payroll-system changes.

For more details on the law, visit www.calchamber.com.

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