Editorials

A second chance to do right by families

Paid family-leave laws that support father-infant bonding have made headway in the past decade, but California’s program remains out of reach for many small business employees.
Paid family-leave laws that support father-infant bonding have made headway in the past decade, but California’s program remains out of reach for many small business employees. Fotolia

Workers in other states may envy California’s paid family leave program. They don’t know that, for some 40 percent of workers, it’s effectively out of reach.

Though everyone with a private sector job pays in advance for the benefit via automatic paycheck deductions, employees at businesses with 50 or fewer workers can be fired for trying to take leaves that are automatic at larger firms. Under the law, small businesses need not hold the jobs of new parents who insist on taking family leave.

As a result, fathers who might take a paternity leave or adoptive parents yearning to bond with a new toddler must rely on the whims of the small business owners who employ them. Sometimes that’s fine.

But when it isn’t, the new parent typically has to forgo a benefit he or she pays for, or take the 12 weeks to which everyone is entitled under state and federal law, and then find another job.

Other states envy California’s paid family leave program. They don’t know that, for some 40 percent of workers, it’s effectively out of reach.

It’s unfair, and not just to workers. Studies show that infants who don’t properly bond with their parents are disadvantaged for the rest of their lives. No one should have to fear punishment for accessing benefits they’ve already paid for, or be forced to choose between financial security and their own child’s well-being.

Small businesses worry about job protection because more laws raise the possibility of more lawsuits. But other states, including Washington and Maine, extend job leave protection to small business employees.

A bill to extend those protections here made it through the Senate this year, only to fall prey to a feud between the Legislative Women’s Caucus and an assemblyman whom they had asked to resign after his ex-wife sought a restraining order. The measure has been revived now that Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-Baldwin Park, has gone on medical leave, and no longer chairs the committee where it stalled.

Backers have their work cut out, still. The chamber of commerce labels it a job killer – another injustice. Like paid family leave, which the chamber decried until, surprise, it killed no jobs, this bill – now Senate Bill 654 – is a lamb in wolf’s clothing, with extra provisions added to ensure no one tries to game the system.

Surely, no decent business owner wants a loophole that hurts kids and stirs up ill will in the workplace. Passing this measure would cost bosses little. But to new parents, it would mean the world.

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