A turning point in paid family leave: California measure has broad political and medical support

A turning point in paid family leave: California measure has broad political and medical support
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Charles Anderson, a new father who was denied parental leave by his employer, and his baby girl.

By Jenna Gerry

With unprecedented bi-partisan support, a bill that would expand parental leave to 2.7 million more of California’s working families is on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Introduced by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), SB 654, the New Parent Leave Act, would extend six weeks of job-protected bonding leave to California workers at companies with at least 20 employees within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite.

This bill addresses one of the biggest barriers workers face when trying to take Paid Family Leave — knowing that their job may not be there when they get back. This bill is remarkable not only for what it will provide to millions of California workers but for the justified bi-partisan support it received on the Assembly floor.

Here in California, the state Chamber of Commerce has consistently put every bill expanding the right to take job-protected parental leave on its infamous “Job Killer” list. In the past, a bill’s placement there has ensured that no Republican legislator would support it, and it has often meant that few to no moderate Democrats would either. Indeed, it can be the kiss of death for progressive legislation, even in our Democratic-controlled Legislature. So, as SB 654, prominent on the “Job Killer” list, headed to the Assembly floor in August, Jackson and the bill’s sponsors were not sure if we had the 41 votes we needed. But something miraculous happened.

After hearing her fellow Republicans voice staunch opposition, Assemblymember Melissa Melendez (R-Murrieta) stood up to speak in support of SB 654. She described her own experience of deciding to leave the military when she became a mother — in part because she would have received only six weeks off after giving birth. She could not imagine having to leave her child that fast. Melendez called on her colleagues to consider that we guarantee the job of any member of the military reserves if they are called to active duty. And she asked whether “the birth of a child is less important than service to one’s country.” She also challenged past rhetoric from both sides of the aisle justifying votes against parental leave measures.

When the final vote came down, nine Republicans joined 45 Democrats in favor of SB 654. We hope this was a turning point, and our state and nation can now transcend partisan politics to understand, finally, that family leave affects us all. As Melendez put it, “Republicans and Democrats agree that family is important, that children are important. And, if you believe that, you have to put your money where your mouth is.”

California’s health community is also speaking out for SB 654. More than 120 California health care professionals and 16 health care organizations — including the American Academy of Pediatrics’ California chapter — delivered a letter to Governor Brown this week urging him to sign it. “This is about clear empirical evidence,” said one signatory, Dr. Paul Chung of UCLA, “showing that the health and well-being of parents and their children — the present and future of our state’s economic productivity — are improved by job-protected paid parental leave.”

In addition to my organization, Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, several groups that advocate for policies to support the viability of working families cosponsored and helped promote SB654: the California Employment Lawyers Association, Equal Rights Advocates, and the California Work and Family Coalition (which counts these groups and many more among its members).

Now it is time for Governor Brown to make parental leave a reality for millions more California workers, especially because they’re already funding six weeks of it through payroll deductions. But parental leave is about more than the bottom line; it is about ensuring the wellbeing of California families and the state as a whole.

Jenna Gerry is an attorney at Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center (LAS-ELC), where she advises workers struggling with family and medical crises and participates in legislative advocacy to expand family-friendly workplace policies.  LAS-ELC is a co-sponsor of SB 654, along with the California Employment Lawyers Association, the Work and Family Coalition, and Equal Rights Advocates.  

 

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Even when LGBT Pride Parade is over, corporations should keep marching against discrimination

Even when LGBT Pride Parade is over, corporations should keep marching against discrimination

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By Elizabeth Kristen

On Sunday, hundreds of thousands lined Market Street and watched the corporate contingents as they marched in San Francisco’s annual LGBT Pride Parade.  The corporate banners and legions of marching employees are testament to how companies are trying hard to appear that they have “come out” as pro-LGBT rights.  Other signs of change can be seen in the recent corporate advertising campaigns featuring LGBT couples and families.  This kind of corporate support for LGBT equality and the integration of the LGBT community into the mainstream has undoubtedly been a forceful engine for change.  But the majority of LGBT workers are still afraid to come out fully in their places of work and they continue to face harassment and discrimination.

Given the long wait for a federal non-discrimination law, what can employers do to welcome LGBT employees and keep them safe?  A critical component that should be familiar to every HR manager is promoting a positive, inclusive LGBT workplace culture. Fortunately, according to a recent study, most employee resource groups have already achieved this. 67% of LGBT employees feel “very welcomed” by their employee resource group, while only 2% feel either “not too welcomed” or “rejected.” But this leaves a substantial middle ground that companies can improve on by making overtures to LGBT employees, while taking an emphatic stance against offensive comments, jokes, and policies.

Implementation of pro-LGBT personnel policies is also important, as it addresses important concerns for LGBT employees while also familiarizing non-LGBT people with LGBT needs. Companies that want to demonstrate their commitment should also provide benefits to compensate for legal inequalities that same-sex couples face, as Google did in 2010, and cover important gender confirmation surgery for interested transgender individuals.

Some statistics also tell the story of how far we have come and how far we still have to go.

  • 91% of Fortune 500 companies have extended workplace protections to cover sexual orientation, up from 61% in 2002.
  • For transgender individuals, the proportion is only 61% as of 2014.  That number is up from 3% in 2002, but still falls short.

Policies on paper are not enough to change a workplace, however.  Real cultural shifts only come with action, including action at the top of the corporate ladder.  Employers who mandate LGBT sensitivity in workplace training alongside race, sex, national origin, disability and other characteristics are making the welcome message clear.  And those who implement gender neutral bathrooms are putting into everyday practice a respect for the diversity of their workforce. And though homophobic objections are becoming more and more marginalized, companies and/or their CEO’s can repudiate them publicly, in a way that will convey to both employees and consumers that the company stands by its commitment to the LGBT community.

Despite the fantastic victories achieved, the fight for LGBT rights and inclusivity is far from over. Workplaces have a role to play in that fight. Workplace managers should take pride in what progress they have facilitated, yet remain attentive to the challenges that remain. Just because June’s LGBT Pride Month is over, there is no reason to stop marching towards pro-LGBT workplaces.

Elizabeth Kristen

About Elizabeth Kristen

Elizabeth Kristen is the Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and a senior staff attorney at Legal Aid at Work.  Ms. Kristen began her public interest career as a Skadden Fellow at Legal Aid.  Ms. Kristen graduated from University of California at Berkeley School of Law in 2001 and served as a law clerk to the Honorable James R. Browning on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.  In 2012-13, she served as a Harvard law School Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.  She has been a lecturer at Berkeley Law School since 2008. Legal Aid at Work together with the California Women’s Law Center and Equal Rights Advocates make up the California Fair Pay Collaborative dedicated to engaging and informing Californians about fair pay issues.

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