California Senate Passes Landmark Legislation Making Paid Family Leave Accessible to Millions More Workers

African American man posing posing holding his baby daughter

San Francisco (July 2, 2020): The California Senate passed a landmark bill today that will make sure that millions of Californians can access critically needed Paid Family Leave benefits without risking their jobs. The vote comes one day after Paid Family Leave was extended from 6 to 8 weeks.

Under current law, a significant percentage of Californians who qualify to receive income under the State’s Paid Family Leave program can still be fired when they take leave, depending on the size of their employer.

For those seeking leave to bond with a new child, only those working for an employer that has more than 20 employees are protected from being fired when they take leave. For those seeking leave to care for a seriously ill family member, only those working for an employer with 50 or more employees have job protection.

As a result, currently 40% of workers in California—or over six million people—can be fired for taking time to care for a seriously ill family member.  And 25%—or nearly four million Californians—can be fired for taking time off to bond with a new child.

This newly passed Paid Family Leave Budget Bill, SB 1383 (Jackson), a part of the budget agreement and backed by Governor Newsom, will change that. It will significantly lower the employer-size requirements, so that those working for an employer with 5 or more employees will have the right to take leave to care for their own or a family member’s serious health condition or bond with a new child without risking their job.

“Every one of us will need time to care for ourselves or someone we love at some point in our lives,” said Sharon Terman, Director of the Work & Family Program at Legal Aid at Work. “No one should be fired because they get sick, have a child, or need to care for a dying parent.”

This bill is especially important for low-wage workers and people of color. Almost all workers pay into the Paid Family Leave program through a tax on every paycheck. But low-wage workers and workers of color—who are far more likely to work for smaller employers than higher wage earners—often cannot actually use the benefits because they know they can be fired when they access them. As a result, people earning low wages, predominantly people of color, are currently subsidizing higher paid workers’ leaves, while being unable to access benefits themselves without risking being fired.

SB 1383 changes this perverse result. It ensures that low-wage, Black, and Latinx workers, who are more likely to work for small employers, can access the Paid Family Leave benefits that they pay for to care for their family without risking their jobs.

Every year, Legal Aid at Work hears from too many workers who have been forced to choose between being there for their families and keeping their jobs.  One new father, whose employer was too small to be covered by the current job protection laws, was fired from his job as a busser when he took two weeks to bond with his baby who was born with health complications.

He said, “My employer’s decision to fire me left my family and me very vulnerable. I was the main breadwinner. This was an emotionally, physically, and financially draining experience during an already stressful time. I am devastated that I lost my job and I am stressed to see how I will support my family.”

This bill is essential to stop the spread of COVID-19 and keep families healthy. When workers do not have job-protected leave, we know they are less likely to seek testing and will go into work sick because they are afraid of losing their job. Not only does this spread COVID-19 to other job-insecure workers and their customers, it makes tracing and containment impossible. SB 1383 ensures that workers are able to stay home when they are sick without risking their family’s economic security.

Jenya Cassidy, Director of the California Work & Family Coalition, said, “It’s a great feeling to see the Senate pass this bill today—it will make taking time to bond or care doable for so many more parents and caregivers across the state. Coalition members have been working hard to make this happen for years and today we’re one step closer!”

The bill also benefits employers, because it results in greater employee retention and higher productivity at work. That is perhaps why a recent poll by Small Business Majority found that a majority of small businesses support extending job protection to all workers, regardless of employer size.

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