Workers in companies with at least five employees could take up to three months off from work to care for a family member without fear of losing their job under a bill that narrowly passed the state Senate on Thursday.
California became the first state in the country in 2004 to make sure some workers keep getting a portion of their salaries when they take time off to care for a family member. The money doesn't come from companies, but from state disability insurance taxes the workers' pay.
But many people who work for smaller companies don't use the program because they are not guaranteed to keep their jobs. In most cases, state and federal law only protect jobs for people who work at companies with at least 50 employees.
The Senate voted 21-12 to change that law to ensure job protections for workers at companies with at least five employees. The bill would only apply to people who have worked for a company for at least one year and logged at least 1,250 hours — a minimum of 24 hours a week. It covers bonding with a new child or caring for a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse or domestic partner.
The bill must still pass the Assembly and be signed by the governor before it could become law.
“People don’t take the leave because they are afraid they are going to lose their job,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Democrat from Santa Barbara who authored the bill. “That makes it difficult if not impossible for people to be human beings, to have to choose for whether they are going to care for a sick family member.”
Republicans and some moderate Democrats opposed the bill, arguing it's much harder for small businesses to find short-term replacements for their employees. Sen. Shannon Grove, the Republican minority leader from Bakersfield, noted the law does not require employees to take the leave consecutively, meaning workers could take two days off each week for most of the year.
“It’s just absurd what you guys do to the private business sector. Give us a break,” said Grove, who owns a staffing company. “Give these hundreds of thousands of businesses in the state of California the opportunity to just get back to normal.”
Jackson noted the state budget Gov. Gavin Newsom signed earlier this week includes $1 million to help small businesses who might struggle to comply with the bill should it become law.
Some moderate Democrats opposed the bill because they were concerned it would let employees sue their bosses for violating the law.