On Thursday, Governor Gavin Newson signed into law a bill that would expand protected-family leave for those in small businesses to 12 months a year for companies with 5 employees or more.
SB 1383 and family paid time off
Senate Bill 1383, authored by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), clarifies that the time off will cover bonding with a newborn, taking care of a family or personal illness, and spouses leaving for military duties. The new SB 1383 law will also make it illegal for an employer to fire or punish an employee for taking the extended time off when proof of a birth, illness, or military event is presented to them. For spouses who work for the same company, time off can also be taken together instead of carrying the old law allowing companies to split time taken off by them.
The bill had been written by Senator Jackson to address the need for more time off due to demand from employees for more paid maternity leave and paternity leave to allow fathers to bond with children early. With COVID-19 becoming widespread in March and April, the sick leave part was highlighted as a main part of the bill due to the growing number of people needing extended sick leaves to care for family members with the virus. That caveat ensured that SB 1383 would not be dropped this session due to an emphasis on COVID-19 related bills, as well as a growing segment of people worried that they would lose their jobs for taking so much time off for illnesses.
SB 1383 faced tough battles in both the Assembly and Senate, nearly not passing on more than one occasion due to a large amount of outcry from dozens of businesses across numerous sectors, with many fearing that such extended time off could ultimately hurt small businesses in the long run. Many Democrats even initially joined Republicans in opposing the bill. But the threat of COVID-19 and pressure from workers over maternity and paternity time off prevailed.
COVID-19, worker firing concerns push Gov. Newsom to sign bill
Upon signing on Thursday, Governor Newsom emphasized the need for paid family leave during the COVID-19 epidemic and the worry of many Californians that they could lose their job for taking so much time off.
“Californians deserve to be able to take time off to care for themselves or a sick family member without fearing they’ll lose their job,” explained Governor Newsom in a statement. “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. This bill will ensure almost all Californians can access the time off they need to keep themselves and their communities healthy.”
Bill supporters praised the signing, noting similar fears by employees for being fired for having time off.
“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,” noted Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego.) “I’m proud to have been a principal co-author of SB 1383 that addresses this inequity and ensures workers can actually access the state’s paid family leave program to care for a loved one or bond with their newborn, without fear of being fired. This is a major step forward for working parents across the state, and will provide families with the protections they need during this public health crisis.”
Many small business, company owners express worry over new bill
However, the signing left many unhappy with the new time-off laws.
“Employees are going to take advantage,” explained San Jose small business owner and neighborhood business liaison Felipe Cruz to the Globe. “They might tack on weeks or use it during non-serious sicknesses or on any number of a wide variety of reasons. This means that not only we still have to pay them, but we have to hire a temporary worker, most likely for the same pay.
“Do you have any idea what the profit margins are like at small businesses? In many cases they are razor thin. So this automatically puts a lot of us in danger. It also means time and resources in training new people who will be gone in a few months anyway, which further adds a loss of productivity.”
“Big companies can take that kind of hit. We can’t. If several people at once take this time off, with the new law saying they absolutely can since we can’t deny them that, it could take some of us out after several weeks due to all that lost money with the new hires and still paying the others.”
“It’s going to be scary.”
SB 1383 comes into effect on January 1, 2021.