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Pending California Legislation Would Add New Protections for Employees With "Family Care Responsibilities" - What's Your Take?

Opendoor California Senate Bill 836, which recently passed the California Senate and the Assembly, would amend California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act to add "familial status" as a new protected classification under the state’s job bias statute. Essentially, the new law would require businesses with more than five employees to reasonably accommodate caregivers that need time away from work to "care for or support" a "family member" (defined to include a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, parent-in-law, sibling, grandparent or grandchild).

The phrase “caring for or supporting a family member,” which is at the heart of the new legislation, is defined broadly to mean any one of the following acts: “providing supervision or transportation; providing psychological or emotional comfort or support; addressing medical, educational, nutritional, hygienic or safety need; or attending to an illness, injury, or mental or physical disability of a family member."

There is alot of controversy surrounding the bill with many arguing that its expansive definitions will wreak havoc in the workplace and lead to frivolous litigation (see some arguments for and against here). For example, one critic points out that "providing transportation to a child" would arguably cover cutting out of work early to drive a child to soccer practice.

On the other hand, there's no doubt that HR policies promoting work life balance help improve loyalty and retention.

The question is whether legislating such policies is the best answer. Time will tell.

Any thoughts, JD Bliss readers?

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Are certain occupations exmepted?

I think family is tremendously important. I do think that our work lives need to be organized to accommodate our families rather than vice versa.

However, I have a simple question about this bill and the new requirement it imposes on employers. Who is going to pay for this?

Senator Kuehl's SB 836 does not call for reasonable accommodation of caregivers and does not alter an employer’s ability to control absences. SB 836 simply prohibits employment discrimination against people who have family caregiving responsibilities. Taking an adverse employment action against a worker simply because of biased assumptions about family caregivers is no more appropriate than taking an adverse employment action against someone based on stereotypes about their race, gender, sexual orientation or religion.

We all pay the price with a less productive economy when qualified workers are passed over for opportunities to maximize the use of their skills, because of biased assumptions about family caregivers. Yet, qualified and hardworking employees far too often face employment discrimination, because of biased assumptions about how committed they will be to their job or because of paternalistic assumptions about the type of work that is appropriate for a parent or other types of family caregiver. Our families face enough pressures today; no one should have to worry about loosing a job, because of stereotypes and biased assumptions about family caregivers.

Jennifer Richard
Legislative Director,
Office of Senator Kuehl

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