Parental leave policy limited

Aiming to attract and keep top-notch talent, a growing number of companies are dangling perks such as lengthy paid leave for new moms and dads, backup child care and onsite infant vaccines.

But the attention-grabbing headlines — such as “IBM plans to ship employees’ breast milk home” — obscure the reality that for many workers, basic benefits such as guaranteed parental leave, even unpaid, is unavailable.

In California, long a trailblazer on paid-leave issues, work-life advocates suffered a setback recently when the governor vetoed a bill that would have required small businesses to guarantee employees’ jobs after they take a parental leave.

Workers at larger employers have that under federal law. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows workers at companies with 50 or more employees to take up to 12 weeks off without pay following the birth or adoption of a child or to care for themselves or a family member with a serious health condition without jeopardizing their job.

California takes it a step further, however. It’s one of just four states that replace a portion of workers’ wages while they’re on unpaid family leave. New Jersey, Rhode Island and, beginning in 2018, New York, are the other states. Washington state also has passed a law but never funded it.

Ohio is not one of the states with the provision.

Though other states have expressed interest in this type of coverage, “change is glacial, and most people still don’t have access” to paid family leave, said Vicki Shabo, vice president at the National Partnership for Women and Families, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

In California, workers at companies of all sizes who take family leave can receive up to 55 percent of their wages, going up to a maximum 70 percent in 2018, for up to six weeks to care for a newborn, newly adopted or foster child or ill family member. The program is financed by a payroll tax on employees that was added to the state’s existing temporary disability program.

But even though they pay into the fund and are entitled to the state payments during a family leave, workers who use the benefit can find themselves out of work at smaller companies. In some cases, workers use their more limited paid vacation instead or they may skip parental leave entirely.

When Charles and Angelique Anderson’s daughter was born in July, Charles asked his company for a month off to bond with the baby. But the debt collection company he works for turned down his request because, he said, they told him his office of roughly 30 workers isn’t bound by the family leave law.

In his veto last month, Gov. Jerry Brown said he was worried about the impact on small businesses. The California Chamber of Commerce opposed the bill, calling it a “job killer” because it would impose another protected leave of absence on small businesses.

A survey of 250 California employers in 2010 found that roughly 90 percent reported no problems with morale, productivity, profit or costs because of the family leaves.

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