California’s new law, the New Parent Leave Act, effectively balances the thin tightrope of work-life legislation. It both promotes employment among parents and sets the foundations for healthy and supportive childhoods for their children. The law guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid family leave to all workers employed by businesses with anywhere from 20 to 49 employees, as federal law already guarantees similar benefits to all employees within companies with 50 or more employees. The legislation is a pragmatic and just piece of public policy that will drastically improve the lives of the 2.7 million Californians it is estimated to affect; however, childhood development will continue to suffer until protection is extended to all employees.
The benefits of this law are unmistakeable: An additional 16 percent of California’s labor force will be able to take 12 weeks of parental leave, regardless of their gender, to properly bond with their newborns. These parents will no longer have to worry about sacrificing either their children or their work for the sake of the other, and mothers will be relieved by the ability of fathers to take time off as well.
However, the New Parent Leave Act’s benefits operate under a fairly constrained scope. The smallest businesses, those employing fewer than 20 people, will not be required to comply with the provisions of the law. The restriction to businesses employing 20 or more people is the result of an intention to spare the worst regulatory burdens on small businesses. As evidenced by the law’s targeted effect on only larger businesses, which are more capable of meeting the costs of fair parental leave policy, attacks on the legislation as a “job-killer” are clearly exaggerated and unfounded.
The legislation was designed as a practical compromise that requires businesses to treat their employees with increased respect, but will not exert pressure on smaller businesses struggling to enter the market. These “medium-sized” businesses will be required to either pay a little more or adjust to temporary leaves of absence from some workers, but the employees themselves will gain tremendous benefit. Research by the Harvard Business Review shows that fair family leave practices increase average workplace productivity and employee retention and promotes a friendlier company reputation.
Additionally, studies by the California Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics indicate children who are able to enjoy proper early development with their parents benefit enormously. Researchers have found that those separated from their parents at early ages have increased risk of psychopathic personalities and detached development, conditions which commonly lead to a number of public health problems including criminal behavior and depression.
Following the results of this new legislation however, 19 percent of all workers in California still do not have access to fair parental leave policies. Those working for companies that employ fewer than 20 workers have access to six weeks of leave without guaranteed job security when they return. To impose current standards of paid leave on these smaller businesses, however, would be foolish and likely drive many out of business.
The fact remains however, that 19 percent of working parents in California lack the proper job security needed to spend time with their newborns during the most critical period of their infantile development. The best way for California to guarantee the same rights to its small business employees is to explore options like subsidized family leave for companies that need it most.
Some options of subsidized family leave include tax credits for businesses that offer fair family leave benefits. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s 2015 family leave plan actually proposed a tax credit up to a maximum of $4,000 per employee yearly for businesses that offer paid family leave for 12 weeks.
Senator Rubio’s plan obviously represents a moderately conservative proposal, while California’s New Parent Leave Act is a compromise liberal piece of legislation. The truth is, however, that both plans have merit and are better suited to different parameters. While the New Parent Leave Act is an effective solution for businesses employing 20 or more people, Rubio’s plan may prove to be the most pragmatic means of providing paid family leave to employees in small businesses employing fewer than 20.
California, as well as the rest of America, is facing a public health predicament in regards to the development of its children as more parents, and mothers specifically, begin to join the workforce. The New Parent Leave Act provides an effective remedy to a substantial portion of California’s workers without exerting unreasonable pressure on employers; however, it still leaves nearly a fifth of the workforce in a difficult and costly position. California has already taken a commendable first step, but additional measures to accommodate smaller businesses are needed to secure healthy childhoods for Californians in the years to come.