Current legislation that would expand the provisions of the California Family Rights Act to employers with five or more employees ignores the severe economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses and could be “particularly devastating” to dental practices, according to CDA.
Senate Bill 1383, by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), proposes to reduce the employee threshold of the CFRA, which provides employees up to 12 work weeks of protected unpaid leave that employees can take for the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child or for a serious health condition of the employee or the employee’s child, parent or spouse. The leave runs concurrent with leave provided under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, which also provides up to 12 weeks of protected unpaid leave for employees who work for employers of 50 or more and is in addition to California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave and Paid Family Leave.
Currently, CFRA applies to employers with 50 or more employees, but Sen. Jackson’s bill would reduce that threshold to employers with just five or more employees, which includes many dental practices in California. Approximately 80% of dental practices in the state have 10 or fewer employees with the average practice having six employees.
CDA has taken an “oppose” position on SB 1383 because of the anticipated major and long-term impact of the bill on those dental practices.
In the small dental practice, for example, there is typically little crossover between staff roles. Licensed hygienist and dental assistant positions require specific and extensive training, so that staff without that training cannot cover the duties of an RDH or dental assistant who is on leave. To fulfill that role, the practice owner would need to hire a new employee but doing so is a costly endeavor for the small business, requiring time and expenses for interviewing, recruiting, onboarding, training and performance management.
The provisions of the current bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2021, leaving very little time for small employers to begin complying with the requirements of the new law should it take effect.
CDA is urging legislators to amend the bill to raise the employee threshold from five employees to 20 at minimum to spare very small businesses like dental practices that are having to make long-term decisions about their financial liability in the COVID era.
Alternatively, CDA is asking that the bill’s implementation be delayed by one or two years or that a hardship exemption for small businesses with fewer than 20 employees be established.
Many practices are still recovering from the monthslong shutdown that began in March to slow new coronavirus infections in the state. As of Aug. 10, more than half of California’s dental practices reported that they are seeing less than 75% of their pre-COVID patient volume.
The increased infection control and social distancing measures that practices are now following limit the number of patients an office can see in a day but, also, not all patients report that they are comfortable returning to the dental office for routine care. Additionally, 1% of dental practices are closed or only seeing emergency patients in California and it is unclear how many of those will reopen.
“The amendments CDA is urging are intended to protect and stabilize our dental care infrastructure in California,” said Stephanie Sandretti, DDS, CDA Government Affairs Council chair. “In a worst-case scenario, a diminished dental workforce will not be able to meet demand once patients across the state who have delayed their care during the pandemic begin to resume that care.”
The bill passed out of Senate by a narrow majority in early July and will next be heard in the Assembly, which has until Aug. 31 to pass the current or amended bill and send it to the governor. CDA is sharing the unique concerns of dentists with assembly members through grassroots outreach and will update CDA members about the bill’s status in the cda.org newsroom and in the weekly newsletter.