SB 406: Job Killer Threatens Us With More Litigation and Costs for Small Business

(Cross posted in Fox and Hounds Daily)

Loren-Kaye-2015-300x300A workplace is most successful when an employer will want to do what it takes to keep a worker happy and productive. This includes accommodating his or her “work-life balance,” within the constraints of operating the business.

But as usual, California has gone a different direction.

Workers here enjoy the most generous mandatory leave policies of anywhere in the nation. The leave programs currently available include:

  • Family Medical and Parental Leave, applicable to employers of more than 50 workers, provides up to 12-weeks protected leave for employee’s or immediate family member’s medical condition or to bond with a newborn.
  • Pregnancy Disability Leave, applicable to employers of more than five workers, provides up to 16 weeks protected leave (in addition to the 12 weeks, above).
  • School Activities Leave, applicable to employers of more than 25 workers, provides up to 40 hours annually to attend school-related activities of a child.
  • Kin Care, applicable to all employers, allows employees to use up to half of paid time off for family members’ illnesses.
  • Paid Sick Leave, applicable to all employers, provides at least three sick days a year for even part-time employees and includes illnesses to their family members.

Only seven states, including California, have their own separate family leave laws. Only three states, including California, have a paid sick leave mandate. Only nine states, including California, have protected school/parental leave.

California is the only state with all of these protected or mandatory leave laws.

Indeed, California has mandated their notion of what constitutes appropriate employer behavior at every turn.

Or … almost every turn.

For wherever there’s a blank spot on the missing-mandate map, the California Legislature is there to fill it.

Last year, the Legislature mandated paid sick leave on every business in the state. This year the Legislature is considering a bill to apply the protected family and medical leave mandate to small businesses with just 25 workers, and expand the definition of family to include grandkids and grandparents, siblings and in-laws.

The upshot would be to require employers, including pretty small businesses, to provide up to 12 weeks of leave and, in some cases for larger businesses, up to 24 weeks (because the extended application of the leave is inconsistent with federal law). An employer must agree to the leave no matter the circumstances of the business. Even if other employees are also on extended leave, a worker’s request cannot be turned down.

These leave programs, like other employee benefits, can have salutary effects on the worker and the workplace. Permitting an employee to stabilize his or her family’s health can be vital for peace of mind and workplace productivity. However providing a mandatory entitlement to such extensive leave places too much burden on employers, a likely reason most other states have drawn the line at 12 weeks for larger employers.

And if a costly mandate on employers isn’t enough, the proposal provides another opportunity for trial lawyers to hold up complying businesses for damages and attorneys fees.

Loren Kaye is president of the California Foundation for Commerce and Education.

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