A current bill, that will expand family leave and guarantee job protection, has just passed in California’s Senate and will continue to fight its way into becoming law.
The law today allows for employees to take partial paid leave to care for a sick family member, if they work in a company of at least 50 employees. Similarly, a parent wishing to care and bond with their newborn can also take leave if they work in a company that has at least 20 employees. If the new bill becomes law then it will significantly expand worker’s access to family leave.
History places California as the first state to give workers in the private sector access to partial pay leave in order to care for a new baby or a sick family member back in 2004. However, many senators throughout the years have urged for improvements in this law as they saw in it a huge flaw. This flaw was that, despite offering partial paid leave, the law does not obligate employers to safeguard the jobs of those on leave. Thus, if a worker takes family leave, there is a chance that they will no longer have a job once they come back. It is this uncertainty that has kept workers from taking family leave despite needing it. According to the Legislative Analysts Office, in 2017 only half of workers eligible went on family leave, even though almost all of workers pay for this system from a 1% tax on their paychecks.
Therefore, with the goal of expanding family leave and including protections, the bill drafted by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, looks to insure three major changes for family leave. The first change deals with accessibility, as it will give employees working in a company with at least five employees access to family leave. The second change expands the amount of leave by granting up to 12 weeks of family leave. The third change will give protection to workers by demanding companies to guarantee those on family leave a job “in the same or comparable position” when they return.
In the past, California would have had a hard time moving this type of legislation into law, as similar bills have failed due to the lobbying of businesses. However, many are hopeful of this bill’s success as it has the complete support of Governor Newsom. Newsom, who has always championed for expansions in California’s family leave program, just last year negotiated for the state budget to include an additional two weeks for family leave.
This year, Newsom supports Senator Jackson’s bill and has commented on the necessity of this bill saying that “often it’s the case that people are not attending to the needs of their family members, which is impacting society in a very deep way. There’s no substitute for caregiving, for outstanding parenting.”
Nonetheless, opposition for this bill is also very present, and made it so Senator Jackson had to edit the bill from allowing all workers to receive family leave to only those that work in a company with at least five employees. California’s Chamber of Commerce and other businesses strongly oppose the bill, saying it will place more burdens on businesses already hurting from the pandemic. Despite employers themselves not paying for the leave, those in opposition argue it will still be a financial burden for employers to find replacements and in potentially facing increased litigation.
Yet, even with the loud opposition, the bill still passed in the Senate in a vote of 21-12. The bill needed 21 votes to pass, which it struggled to acquire. Now the bill must fight once more to be passed in the Assembly and lastly be signed by the Governor for it to become law.
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