San Francisco mandates fully paid parental leave

San Francisco supervisors Tuesday voted unanimously to make The City the first in the country to require most employers to provide six weeks of fully paid parental leave to employees.

The legislation introduced by Supervisor Scott Wiener applies to all businesses and nonprofits with 20 or more employees and all employees who have been with a company for 180 days or more and work eight hours a week or more. The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2017 for businesses with 50 or more employees, while smaller businesses will be given more time.

Wiener said:

“Our country’s parental leave policies are woefully behind the rest of the world, and today San Francisco has taken the lead in pushing for better family leave policies for our workers. … We shouldn’t be forcing new mothers and fathers to choose between spending precious bonding time with their children and putting food on the table.”

Currently under state law eligible parents can get up to 55 percent of their income paid for six weeks of parental leave through the state disability program. The ordinance approved today requires employers to make up the difference.

A law now on the Governor Jerry Brown’s desk would increase the amount paid through the state, and Wiener said those changes would automatically reduce the amount local employers need to pay. In addition, any employers who already provide equal or greater parental leave benefits are exempt from the policy.

The law drew some opposition from members of the business community, including the city’s Small Business Commission. Wiener today said he had tried to work with business groups and said he had the support of the Bay Area Council, a regional business advocacy group.

Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wunderman said in a statement that paid parental leave would increase the probability that employees will return to work, be more productive and earn higher wages:

“Our members recognize that while the addition of paid parental leave will come at a short-term expense to employers, it will yield a long-term financial and societal benefits.”

In other action, the board today approved three pieces of legislation by Supervisor David Campos.

The board unanimously approved legislation requiring all city businesses with single-occupancy restrooms to designate them as single gender, as well as legislation prohibiting no-fault evictions on all educators and school employees during the school year and expanding the eviction protections currently extended to families with school-age children.

A third piece of legislation introduced by Campos, declaring a shelter emergency in response to a public outcry over homelessness, generated more controversy.

Wiener argued that the legislation, which allows the city to bypass some health and safety codes in the development of homeless facilities, would not bring any new funding or significantly speed up the opening of new shelters.

He described it as “misleading the public” into thinking the board was taking action:

“If I thought this legislation would do anything whatsoever to improve the situation on our streets I would vote for it in a heartbeat, but it won’t.”

Campos said the declaration of a shelter emergency was “not enough,” and noted that he had also introduced legislation calling for The City to open additional Navigation Centers, shelters with more flexible rules and links to permanent housing programs, over the next year.

Campos said:

“The residents of San Francisco are frustrated and I believe that we collectively as a city government have failed to address this issue in a meaningful way. … In order to address this crisis, I believe we have to first acknowledge that it is a crisis.”

The shelter emergency declaration passed passed 7-3 with Wiener and Supervisors Mark Farrell and Katy Tang in the dissent and Aaron Peskin absent.