California's Bereaving Private Employers

MAY 19, 2011

By KATY GRIMES

In the event of the death of a relative, Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal wants employees to take four days leave from work to properly mourn – and she’s authored a bill giving employees 13 months in which to do this.

AB325 would authorize employees to take four days of unpaid bereavement leave, and would prevent an employer from retaliating against the employee through discipline or termination.

“It’s basic human dignity,” said Lowenthal, a Long Beach Democrat, during floor debate today in the Assembly.

Lowenthal said that employees can and have been fired by employers for even asking for time off.

I’m not sure what century Lowenthal is referring to, but 19th century sweatshops aren’t exactly representative of the average employer – particularly in California, where there are more labor and employment lawyers than employees, monitoring evil private sector employers’ every move.

Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby challenged Lowenthal’s sweatshop imagery of the state’s employers, and even mocked the 13-month bereavement leave window. “Employers and employees need to be able to work together without the blunt instrument of the law,” Norby said.

But employees who feel they have been fired or disciplined for asking for bereavement leave can file a complaint with the Division of Labor Standards or file a civil suit against the employer.

“No California employee should have to choose between employment and the loss of a loved one,” said Lowenthal, even after hearing Norby’s comments.

Most employers voluntarily provide bereavement leave to employees, which raises questions about the need for this bill.

California has so many different types of protected employee leave, that it is a miracle any work gets done. And some employees are so dialed in to the many types of leaves available, that the employer ends up hiring a replacement just to get the work done.

The California Fair Employment and Housing department lists many of the leaves available:

  • Pregnancy leave
  • Family leave
  • Baby bonding leave
  • Drug and alcohol leave
  • On-the-job injury leave
  • Sick or disability leave
  • Military leave
  • Caring for an ill or injured military family member leave
  • leave for up to 40 days per year to volunteer in kids’ school
  • Literacy program leave
  • Court and jury leave
  • Voting time leave
  • Sick leave

Employers don’t like finding themselves on the receiving end of a letter from the Fair Employment and Housing department.

The bill’s analysis states that some opponents of the bereavement leave bill contend that the majority of local public sector employers are already covered by collective bargaining agreements that provide for paid leave benefits, including bereavement leave, and that this bill therefore undermines local control and the integrity of the collective bargaining process.

I argue that the bill is just another gross infringement and restriction placed on California’s private sector employers.

It’s as if Democratic legislators really don’t believe that employers are leaving the state in droves because of the increasing regulations, imposed by a deaf Legislature. And more employers will pick up and move out of California – if they can. If they can’t, they will close their doors, which always results in the permanent termination of employees.

And then who will pay the increasing corporate taxes, which Democrats say are so desperately needed?

The bill was passed by the Assembly, 46-26… along party lines… again.



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