Opinion Poll: California small business owners support expanding paid family leave protections, increasing paid sick days

Small Business Majority
Wednesday, July 12, 2023

As the California Legislature considers updating the state’s small business paid family leave and sick day policies, a new poll shows that small businesses owners strongly support expanding family leave protections and other benefits to their employees, including increasing the amount of paid sick days that employees can take. 

The need for more comprehensive state leave benefits comes as small business owners report experiencing several changes to their businesses in the past year. Most are experiencing a period of growth, with headcounts and revenue having risen since last year. However, owners do have concerns about their employees’ finances as well as their own. Owners are particularly concerned about housing costs, while they perceive their employees as being more worried about healthcare costs. 

Small business owners in California overwhelmingly believe it is important to have access to health and family leave benefits in order to obtain financial security. State policies that would provide more state-supported employee benefits have wide appeal, all with large majority support, including ensuring 12 weeks of job protection for employees taking paid family leave, expanding definitions of for whom leave can be taken, and removing unused vacation time requirements for paid leave. What’s more, the vast majority support a proposal to expand the number of guaranteed paid sick days for employees in California from three to seven days. 

Small business owners report that the proposed expansions for paid family leave would help their businesses compete with larger firms. As the legislature considers these measures, it’s important that they understand that small businesses see a benefit to expanding these policies. 

Key findings

  • Small business owners are strongly supportive of paid family leave policies, including a recent state law that expanded job protection to guarantee up to 12 weeks of protected leave for employees while on extended sick, family, medical, disability or parental leave (87% support). Additionally, they support new policies on the table to expand paid family leave, including a measure to remove the requirement that employees take unused vacation time before they can take paid leave (88%), and allowing an employee to take leave to care for someone other than family but who is like family, such as a guardian (86%).
  • An overwhelming majority of owners (85%) support the California State Legislature expanding guaranteed annual paid sick days from three to seven days.
  • In a matchup of opposing statements, a vast majority of small business owners believe that employee benefits offered by the state can benefit their business, compared to only 21% who think state-imposed benefit mandates would place burdensome bureaucratic requirements on small businesses. More than 7 in 10 strongly believe the statement in support of state benefits. 
  • The most popular form of paid leave that small business owners offer to their employees is sick leave, which more than two-thirds provide. Vacation time and paternity leave are also offered by a majority of owners. Out of those who offer benefits, small business owners say they struggle the most to provide maternity leave, possibly because of the length of absence it involves.  
  • A list of reasons for increased state support to help small businesses retain employees on leave elicit strong agreement across demographics. The vast majority of owners (92%) agree that “businesses are better able to retain highly skilled and experienced employees and do not have to do retraining.” 
  • Nearly all small business owners in California (92%) would like to offer more paid family leave than they are currently able to.