-By Jessica Vann
Having just returned to work from my own maternity leave, and as a business owner running a San Francisco based company, my attention was particularly piqued by San Francisco’s mandated Parental Leave policy announcement last week.
There is no doubt in my mind we in the United States have a broken system when it comes to supporting new parents. It is incomprehensible that in the world’s richest nation, many new parents, out of financial necessity, are forced to drag themselves back into the workforce weary, exhausted, and physically unready. Speaking from personal experience, there wasn’t much I was up for doing several weeks after giving birth. If getting out of your bathrobe and brushing your teeth by 3:00p everyday feels like an accomplishment, you’re probably not ready to go back to work yet!
While I see the announcement as a boon for employees working in San Francisco, ultimately, our nation’s maternity / paternity leave crisis doesn’t have a remedy at the city level. With its HCSO legislation, higher minimum wages, strong renter protection laws, and now a city mandated maternity leave, San Francisco posits a version of existence for its denizens that is far more humane and compassionate than any other U.S. city I can think of. Perhaps this is another example of positive role-modeling by the city, and we can all hope that in an election year, others will take up the cause at a national level. After all, San Francisco had HCSO legislation in practice well before the Affordable Care Act was introduced. The city has consistently been a beacon of progress, some of which has been emulated at a national level.
One concern I do have, particularly if this remains a program funded at the city level and not the national level, is that small to mid-size employers could be adversely affected. I had a conversation just yesterday with a friend and fellow business owner who said his CFO has been trying to get him to leave the city for years. In the face of dramatically escalating commercial rents, the challenge to find and retain top talent in the city at salaries a small or mid-size employer can afford, and with the additional costs of a city-wide payroll tax, he finally listened. As of this month, he no longer has an office or employees in San Francisco, while at his peak he employed 20 people here. In this way, I fear this ordinance, in combination with the other costs of doing business in San Francisco, could ultimately hurt the very people the city purports to protect.
In the countries that have this initiative, it’s funded at the national level and thus the burden is distributed more evenly. In SF with sky rocketing commercial and residential rents, unreal real estate prices, high sales tax, and various other mandates such as the HCSO and city-wide payroll tax, the overall cost of living and doing business in San Francisco is already extremely high. Needless to say this ordinance will also make it harder for smaller business to remain competitive and many will fold or move out of the city like my friend did. Maybe the supervisors only see Uber and Twitter and all the new-economy, venture backed companies with Gazillion dollar valuations as the future of San Francisco’s business community. But, if that’s not the case, then I fear they may have overlooked how this new requirement would be financed - on the backs and sacrifice of small businesses.
Bottom line is I am all for compensating new parents with 100% of their salary while they are on leave. That time is sacred and should be about bonding and rejuvenating, not worrying about money and where you can cut back to stretch your budget. That said, politicians need to step up at the national level and follow San Francisco’s example. Time with an infant is a collective value and therefore should be a collective concern and expense.