For International Women’s Day, ask your legislators to vote to broaden parental leave laws

Alfonso, a tow truck driver, wanted to take paternity leave to be with his newborn daughter in her first weeks of life, but his employer threatened to fire him if he took more than a week off.

The company — because it has only 30 employees — was not required to hold his job, even though Alfonso paid into the California Paid Family Leave program. He was entitled to receive up to six weeks of wage replacement benefits during bonding leave with his new baby. But he had to give up the benefits — and not take leave — because he feared losing his job.

The California Family Rights Act and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act do not apply to workplaces with fewer than 50 employees. This exclusion forces more than 40 percent of working parents in California to choose between bonding with their children and being able to keep their families fed, housed, and economically secure. It also forces many women to go back to work when their babies are just six weeks old (after they’ve taken only their pregnancy disability leave, which is job-protected for women working for companies with at least 5 employees).

Thankfully, the California Legislature is considering a bill that would extend job protections to up to 2.7 million more mothers and fathers when they take leave by lowering the employee-threshold to 20 employees. SB 63 (Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson) is up for a vote in the state Senate’s Labor Committee on March 22.  The bill doesn’t require employers to pay employees on leave, but parents can draw down their Paid Family Leave benefits, which are funded entirely by workers.

On this International Women’s Day, men and women should urge their legislators to vote yes on SB 63 and enable more parents to take leave to bond with their newborn, newly adopted or new foster children without fear of losing their jobs. Studies show that parental leave is good for the health and wellbeing of parents and infants and leads to lifelong benefits in children’s cognitive development. It also promotes gender equity, by empowering fathers to take on their fair share of parenting tasks, embedding patterns that last over the course of their lives. That lightens the load for women, who still shoulder the bulk of family caregiving responsibilities – not just for children but for elderly parents and other ill loved ones.

Studies also show that new fathers want to be more engaged in family caregiving.  Since Paid Family Leave went into effect in 2004, the percentage of men taking leave has doubled, though men still lag far behind women in their use of the program.

In addition to new policies, we need a cultural shift. More men, especially those in leadership positions, need to take leave so that others have an example to follow.  Men also should encourage their employers to adopt more generous family leave policies, so that this isn’t seen as purely a women’s issue.

Learn here about your rights in California to take family and parental leave (and about related services we provide). Learn more here about our work in the Healthy Mothers Workplace Coalition to encourage employers to adopt policies to support families and working parents.

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