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San Francisco Board OKs Rehire Rights For Laid-Off Workers

By Max Kutner · April 7, 2021, 6:32 PM EDT

San Francisco workers laid off because of the pandemic are closer to being able to reclaim their jobs if employers try to refill them, after the city's board of supervisors approved an ordinance that would create a right of reemployment for certain workers.

During a remote meeting Tuesday, San Francisco's board of supervisors voted 10 to 1 in favor of passing the "Back to Work" ordinance, which would extend rehiring protections past an existing emergency law. The ordinance will now go to Mayor London Breed for final approval and would go into effect 30 days after being signed.

"By facilitating reemployment, this ordinance aims to curb the long-term, adverse effects that job loss can cause on the financial, physical and mental health of employees and their families and thus our greater community," the ordinance says.

The measure would amend the city's police code to give employees laid off due to COVID-19 a right to reemployment if their employer tries to fill the same position or a similar one.

Under the ordinance, an employer seeking to refill a position from which an employee was laid off must "first offer the eligible worker an opportunity for reemployment to the eligible worker's former position before offering the position to another person." The same goes for hiring for a "substantially similar position."

An employer should make these reemployment offers to laid off employees in order of seniority, according to the ordinance.

The law would apply to employees who had worked at least 90 days before the layoff and employers with at least 100 employees before layoffs, with some exceptions. The employer would have had to lay off at least 10 employees within 30 days to qualify.

San Francisco put in place rehiring protections through an emergency ordinance in July 2020. The new measure would extend those protections and remain in effect for one year or until the city's state of emergency ends, whichever comes later.

As of June 2020, there had been more than 136,000 layoffs in the San Francisco area in the previous three months, and some 141,000 San Francisco residents filed for unemployment between February and May 2020, according to the text of the ordinance.

San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar, who put forward the legislation, said it would make the city a leader in responding to pandemic unemployment. 

"This is based on a clear, simple and moral idea: Businesses should rehire, not replace, their laid-off workers," Mar said in a statement Tuesday. "The unemployment crisis created by this pandemic is not unique to San Francisco, but this is a labor town, and we are uniquely positioned to lead in addressing it."

The "Back to Work" ordinance has had detractors.

San Francisco's Small Business Commission, which oversees the city's Office of Small Business, voted unanimously against the legislation, saying it could cause problems with unemployment insurance and record-keeping.

In an email to Law360 on Wednesday, a spokesperson for the Office of Small Business pointed to the commission's September 2020 comments on the proposal. The commission had said the ordinance "would not be in the best interest of workers, employers or the city's efforts toward recovery and rebuilding."

Another opponent of the ordinance, the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, said in a January letter to the board of supervisors that the legislation was "overly burdensome" and could "create logistical barriers for employers who might not have the resources to hire back employees."

Worker advocates, on the other hand, have praised the proposal. In a March letter to the board of supervisors, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union said the ordinance would provide "a much-needed economic stimulus to workers in need."

Spokespeople for the board of supervisors and the mayor's office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

A spokesperson for the Chamber also did not immediately respond.

The ordinance is Police Code Article 33K: Right to Reemployment Following Layoff Due to COVID-19 Pandemic.

--Editing by Haylee Pearl.

Update: This story has been updated with comment from San Francisco Supervisor Gordon Mar. 

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