LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Millions more Californians are now eligible for paid family leave benefits after Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation expanding the benefit to those who work for an employer with five or more employees.

The legislation signed Thursday will expand the job-protected family leave to nearly 6 million more Californians and ensure that workers affected by COVID-19 have time to take care of themselves or a sick family member.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has only further revealed the need for a family leave policy that truly serves families and workers, especially those who keep our economy running,” Newsom said in a statement.

California’s Paid Family Leave program was first enacted more than 15 years ago, but prevented millions from accessing the benefit because their companies were too small. SB 1383 ensures job-protected leave for Californians who work for an employer with five or more employees to recover from an illness, bond with a newborn, care for a seriously ill family member or address a military exigency.

“COVID-19 revealed how vulnerable we are when we do not support parents, and moms in particular, in their dual roles as caregivers and breadwinners,” First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom said in a statement.

Newsom also signed AB 1867 to create a small employer family leave mediation pilot program, so small employers may request free mediation before an employee can file a lawsuit in court over leave issues.

“No mom should have to risk losing her job to access family leave benefits that she’s already paid for out of her own paycheck,” Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, said in a statement.

California’s paid family leave policy was extended in 2019 from six to eight weeks for each parent or caretaker of a newborn child, on top of the existing six to eight weeks of paid pregnancy disability leave that was already available to birth mothers in California since the 1970s.

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