San Francisco could be first U.S. city with fully paid parental leave

San Francisco could become the first U.S. city to mandate fully paid parental leave, requiring employers to shoulder a substantial portion of the burden and far exceeding the benefits provided by California and other states and cities.

If approved, the law would provide new parents working in the private sector with six weeks of leave, nearly doubling the pay they are now eligible to collect under California law.

Better benefits for parents are part of campaigns across the nation aimed at combating rising income inequality. California’s governor on Monday signed into law a bill raising the state’s minimum wage from $10 to $15 an hour by the year 2023.

The parental leave vote, scheduled for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on Tuesday afternoon, comes at a time when the United States lags other developed countries in parental leave for employees.

San Francisco already offers 12 weeks of fully paid leave to its approximately 30,000 city employees.

On Monday, New York’s governor signed a bill granting 12-week paid family leave that will phase in by 2021.

California and New Jersey provide up to six weeks of partial pay, while Rhode Island offers four, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The city of Seattle provides four weeks of fully paid leave.

The new San Francisco policy, which would take effect in 2017, would require private employers with at least 20 workers to pay 45 percent of worker wages for as long as six weeks, according to the legislation.

The remaining 55 percent of weekly wages would come from a worker-funded state disability program.

Leave payments are calculated as a percentage of wages up to an annual ceiling of $106,740.

Supporters say it will ease the financial burden on new parents, enabling them to spend bonding time with their babies. Opponents say it will put local businesses at a competitive disadvantage, hurting profits and costing jobs.

In 2014, about 5,000 San Francisco residents accessed the state’s program for paid family leave for an average of 5.4 weeks. The ordinance would cover roughly 75 percent of private-sector employees in the city, according to the city’s Office of Economic Analysis.

Parental leave has become a key enticement for technology companies in Silicon Valley seeking to recruit and retain employees.

Netflix Inc provides up to a year, while Facebook Inc provides four months and Microsoft Corp offers eight weeks.

Federally, the Family Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn or adopted child. The law applies to private employers with 50 or more employees.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Sara Catania and Jonathan Oatis)

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