Tamisha McNeally and Brooklynn Evans. (Courtesy Photo)

When Brooklynn Evans was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2015, the only thing on her mother’s mind was figuring out how to save her child’s life. Tamisha McNeally, a Contra Costa resident, was soon met with the prognosis that her young daughter’s in-hospital treatment would last many months—six months to be exact.

To be there for her daughter, she was going to need significant time off work. Tamisha was familiar with Paid Family Leave (PFL)—having utilized the program in 2009 to bond with a newborn Brooklynn— and immediately consulted her employers human resource department. Unfortunately, the heartbreak for Tamisha continued as her employer alerted her that she didn’t meet the criteria for job-protected leave. California’s PFL program does not include guaranteed job protection, which makes Tamisha’s story a reality for nearly 25 percent of the state’s workforce, which forces many people are forced to choose between caring for their families and keeping their jobs.

To qualify for job-protected (caregiving) leave in California, an employee must have one year on the job, worked 1,250 hours in the year prior to leave, and work for a business with at least 50 employees. “In my orientation, PFL was never explained, so when the human resources representative questioned my tenure, I was lost. Understanding available options from the beginning would have allowed me to spend valuable time tending Brooklynn during the most stressful time in both of our lives,” said Tamisha.

PFL provides partial pay to employees who need to take time off from work to care for a seriously ill family member (child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or registered domestic partner) or bond with a new child entering the family through birth, adoption, or foster care placement. Employers do not contribute a cent to PFL—the program is entirely funded by employees through their payroll deductions.

Since Tamisha had only been on the job for three months and was thus unprotected, she was ultimately laid off. As a single parent, Tamisha was faced with figuring out how she would pay her bills and take care of her daughter while she endured life-saving treatments. Brooklynn needed her mother to dry her tears, calm her fears, and comfort her during those long days and nights in the hospital. She also needed her mother’s reassurance that she would be able to see again and walk again. The road to recovery wasn’t easy.

Today, Tamisha and Brooklynn are survivors. Brooklynn is cancer-free and living life as a healthy 10-year-old. Tamisha still struggles to fully understand why there isn’t consideration for workers, no matter their tenure, to care for seriously ill family members or a newborn baby. The fact that PFL does not offer job protections for all workers contributing to PFL, particularly for single parents, seems to be a glaring oversight.

There is good news on the horizon, however. Governor Newsom is preparing to extend PFL benefits from six to eight weeks come July 2020 and has proposed extending job protection to all workers regardless of employer size. 

“It’s scary to find yourself facing homelessness due to reasons beyond your control. Your whole life changes when given a cancer diagnosis and it would be nice to not have to worry about how you will live and job security,” added Tamisha.

Tamisha wants to be clear that she was never looking for handouts. Her experience has simply made her an advocate of why PFL expansion is necessary in more areas than just providing additional leave time. Bringing her story to the forefront is important to other single parents faced with unforeseen situations that do not fit the typical PFL mold and she hopes to challenge California legislators to do better to support hard-working caregivers such as herself.