Una Curran helps her son, Michael, 5, on the play structure at Dianne Feinstein Elementary School. (Cindy Chew/2007 S.F. Examiner)

New SF law allowing employees to take fully paid parental leave goes into effect

A new law that makes San Francisco the first city in the U.S. to allow new parents to take time off from work without taking a pay cut goes into effect Sunday.

In April, the Board of Supervisors unanimously passed the first-of-its-kind paid parental leave legislation authored by former Supervisor Scott Wiener, who was elected to the state Senate in November. The ordinance was signed into law by Mayor Ed Lee on April 21.

Currently, employees in California receive up to 55 percent of their salary for up to six weeks to care for newborns or newly adopted children under the California Paid Family Leave program.

Wiener’s legislation required businesses with at least 20 employees to cover the remaining 45 percent of the worker’s compensation, although the number of employees has since been adjusted to align with a change to the state’s program.

The legislation will be phased in over the years, but the first portion requires employers with at least 50 employees to comply beginning Sunday. Employers with at least 35 employees must comply beginning July 1, 2017, and employers with at least 20 employees are required to comply beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

Those supporting the legislation have said lower wage workers will benefit the most. Employees of large tech companies, like Facebook or Google, already enjoy comprehensive paid family leave benefits, as previously reported by the San Francisco Examiner.

The Board of Supervisors approved amendments to the law in September to reflect a change in the state’s Paid Family Leave law. Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, the wage replacement increases from 55 to 60 percent for higher income workers, and to 70 percent for lower income workers. That means San Francisco employers’ compensation will drop to 40 and 30 percent, respectively.

But Small Business Commission President Mark Dwight, founder and CEO of Rickshaw Bagworks, said adding any discrepancies between state and local laws burdens businesses.

“I don’t have any fundamental objection to the concept of family leave at all,” Dwight said. “I just don’t like when San Francisco is not harmonized with state law.”

Exempting companies with less than 20 employees from the local ordinance is also counterproductive, according to Dwight.

“The other major flaw with our ordinance is that it excludes companies with 20 or less employees,” he said. “That is a big proportion of the very people that we’re trying to help.”

But Wiener reiterated Thursday that he worked with the business community and other stakeholders on the legislation, and resisted pressure to increase the threshold even higher, to companies with at least 50 employees.

“We passed the most expansive paid parental leave requirement in the country, and San Francisco should be proud to be on the cutting edge of this critically important issue,” Wiener said in a text message to the Examiner. “The 20-worker threshold is consistent with other pro-worker ordinances passed in San Francisco, including our universal healthcare law.”

S.F. Examiner Staff Writer Joshua Sabatini contributed to this story.

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