New law in California allows more people than anywhere else in the country to take up to three months off work to care for a family member thanks in part to a nursing mother who brought her baby to work with her on the last day of holding the legislative session to vote in favor.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed the bill on Thursday about two weeks after it passed through the state legislature just minutes before the midnight deadline. It passed in part because Congresswoman Buffy Wicks, an Oakland Democrat, returned to the legislature from her maternity leave to vote in favor after her request for a proxy vote was denied by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. He later apologized to Wicks.
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Wicks cast her vote with her baby by her side. A video of her taking her baby to the Assembly floor was widely shared on social media.
“I wanted to cast that vote,”
California was the first state to allow people to take up to 12 weeks off work to care for a family member, while still receiving a portion of their salary. The money comes from the disability insurance taxes paid by the workers.
But since that law went into effect in 2004, many people who work for smaller companies haven’t used it because they’re not guaranteed to keep their jobs. In most cases, state and federal laws only protect jobs for people who work in companies with at least 50 employees.
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The law signed Thursday by Newsom extends workplace protections to companies with at least five employees. The law is one of the most extensive in the country, according to the National Conference of State Legislators.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only further revealed the need for a family leave policy that truly serves families and workers, especially those who keep our economy running,” Newsom said in a news release.
California already allows women to take up to four months of unpaid leave for pregnancy. But it is rare for women to take the full four months because they must have had a pregnancy-related complication that interferes with their job duties.
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The bill was a priority for trade unions, but it almost didn’t happen due to strong opposition from business groups.
The California Chamber of Commerce said it was “disappointed”. Newsom signed the law because it adds “a new burden to small employers”. President and CEO Allan Zaremberg urged small businesses to “pay close attention to what is now being asked of them,” pointing out that they could be sued for failing to comply with the law.
The law signed by Newsom only applies to employees who have worked at least 1,250 hours in the last year, or about 24 hours per week. It covers the bond with a new child or the care of a parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse or domestic partner.
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“With this bill, millions of hard-working Californians will finally be able to use the benefits of paid family leave they pay without fear of losing their jobs,” said Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, author of the bill.