Like the vast majority of our business members, the Chamber supports family-friendly policies so long as they do not result in undue financial and compliance burdens for businesses in our state.
Unfortunately, SB 63 (Jackson) does not fit this mold. Last year, the Governor vetoed a version of this bill which would have provided a 6-week protected leave of absence for new parents. In doing so, he explained his concerns. This year’s version not only doesn’t address those concerns, it also doubles the amount of the protected leave.
California, rightly, is recognized by the National Conference of State Legislatures as one of the most family-friendly states because of the programs and protected leaves of absence already on the books. In a recent study titled “The Status of Women in the States: 2015 Work & Family,” California ranked second in the nation for work and family policies.
SB 63 will have hurt small businesses in this state by reducing the current employee threshold from 50 to 20. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act, as well as over 40 states including California, utilize the 50-employee threshold to ensure that businesses can comply with this mandated, protected leave of absence. By dramatically reducing the employee threshold, smaller businesses will struggle more under SB 63, especially when taking into consideration the increased minimum wage, higher energy and workers’ compensation costs, and the highest base sales and income taxes in the country. In Santa Barbara County alone, it is estimated that an additional 1100-plus employers, with more than 34,000 employees, will be impacted.
The new requirements would not provide discretion to the employer to work with potentially multiple employees out on leaves of absence at the same time. Additionally, SB 63 does not do anything to protect these small businesses from civil lawsuits. The threat of litigation is real because SB 63 amends California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, which provides not only injunctive relief and compensatory damages, but also exposes businesses to punitive damages and attorney’s fees by deeming a violation of SB 63 as an “unlawful employment practice”.
This year’s bill is worse than last year’s measure because it doubles the amount of the new protected leave – from 6-weeks to 12 weeks. As Governor Brown said last year, “It goes without saying that allowing new parents to bond with a child is very important and the state (already) has a number of paid and unpaid benefit programs to provide for that leave. I am concerned, however, about the impact of this leave particularly on small businesses and the potential liability that could result.” Nothing has changed this year to address the Governor’s previous concerns.
This bill was authored by our local state senator, Hannah-Beth Jackson. The Chamber appreciates her focus on workplace issues and in fact supported a previous bill authored by the senator in 2015, which helped close the wage gap for women in the workplace. Unfortunately, this bill simply takes a good idea too far and makes it unworkable for too many local employers and their employees. For that reason, we have joined with a wide coalition of business and other organizations across the state to ask the Governor to renew his veto once again.