Senate Bill 135, which would increase the number of people qualified for family leave and expand the definition of who’s covered under family leave, faces a vote this week.
SB 135’s language would change existing laws in a large way. The existing law currently only allows family leave if the employer has more than 50 people working there and if the employee in question worked 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. Under SB 135, Employers would only need 5 people or more working there who had worked 180 days or more.
SB 135 also changes the reasons for leave. The old law states that family leave could only be taken in cases of birth, adoption, foster placement or a serious health condition involving the employee’s child, spouse, or parent. Under the bill, leave would be expanded to include matters involving the U.S. military, with family also being expanded to include grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and domestic partners.
The bill, according to author Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), is a way to update the current system, as the working family has changed to include different generations and a greater scope of people. Senator Jackson has also pursued this bill as she is the Chair of the Senate Select Committee on Women, Work and Families.
“Family leave is good for families, good for children, and good for our economy,” Senator Jackson said in a press release. “With more families than ever depending on two incomes to pay their bills, it’s time for California to finally live up to the full promise of our Paid Family Leave Program. The Governor’s commitment has built important momentum for California’s families, and the time is right to provide all working families who pay into this program the ability to care for their loved ones without fear of losing their income or their jobs.”
Jackson has enjoyed support from many Democrats in the statehouse, as well as from family, worker, and choice groups.
However, the bill also has many detractors from those very same groups. A key part of the bill’s original language would have included a six month leave (as opposed to the 12 week leave currently in the bill), as well as automatic job protection for taking leave. The latter, of which it should be noted, was a key part of Jackson’s original bill.
“What the bill now says, that ‘the employee shall retain employee status with the employer, and the leave shall not constitute a break in service’, sounds good,” explained Jose Reyes, a job consultant in Los Angeles. “But what employers do is set them up to fail. They may come back on the same team where they work, but they may be on a different job, or the employer changes the Windows system they’re on, or moves desks, or a hundred other little things.”
“This isn’t job protection, per say. It’s just making them creative on how they fire them.”
“A lot of employers still don’t like that they can’t bring in someone new to replace them full time, especially if a dad gets several weeks off. You know, old school places. And they’ll find another way.”
“Once that blanket language was dropped some people lost faith.”
Business advocates have also come out against the bill for economic reasons, with California Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Jennifer Barrera saying, “The bill would have placed a significant burden on small employers who don’t have the workforce to cover the duties of employees out on leave.”
The bill, which had been stuck in the Senate since June, faces a fight to the finish this week.
UPDATE/CORRECTION: SB 135 was placed on the inactive file in May.
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