Revived Calif. Parental Leave Bill Aims to Expand Coverage

New leave law would impact small businesses with 20-49 employees

Revived Calif. Parental Leave Bill Aims to Expand Coverage

The California Legislature has revived a bill that would make baby-bonding leave available to many more employees in the state.

The New Parent Leave Act would require employers with 20 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the workplace to provide six weeks of parental leave to eligible employees. 

"The parental leave may be unpaid, but employees shall be entitled to apply accrued vacation pay, paid sick time or other accrued paid time off during the period of parental leave," explained Susan Groff, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Los Angeles. "The bill further prohibits employers from refusing to maintain and pay for an employee's group health insurance coverage when an employee takes this parental leave."

The bill presents challenges for small employers because they would have to either hire temporary replacements, pay existing employees overtime or accept that the job just isn't going to get done, said Charles Thompson, an attorney with Ogletree Deakins in San Francisco. These choices are a lot harder on a smaller workforce, he said.

An unsuccessful earlier version of the bill would have required businesses with as few as 10 employees to provide 12 weeks of parental leave.

Expanded Leave

Currently in California, businesses with at least five employees must offer up to four months of pregnancy disability leave to workers who become disabled by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition.

Employees who meet certain criteria may receive an additional 12 weeks of baby-bonding leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), if their employer has at least 50 employees.

The New Parent Leave Bill (S.B. 654), which was authored by State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), aims to provide protected baby-bonding leave to employees of businesses with 20-49 employees.

The most recent version of the bill would provide those employees with six weeks of leave to bond with a child within one year of the child's birth, adoption or foster care placement.

Similar to the CFRA, the new law would cover male and female employees who have worked for their employer for over 12 months and have logged at least 1,250 hours in the previous 12-month period.

The law would also require employers to guarantee reinstatement to the same or a comparable position following the leave, Groff noted.

Impact on Small Employers

Small businesses would be faced with the possibility of employees not only taking four months off for pregnancy disability leave but also taking six weeks of baby-bonding leave on top of that, Thompson said.

"For many small employers, coping with five-and-a-half months of leave due to an employee's pregnancy plus parental leave will present a real hardship," according to Groff.

While the parental leave under the proposed law would be unpaid, there are other associated costs, including maintaining employee medical benefits and covering job duties while the employee is on leave, she added.

Furthermore, minimum-wage increases and mandatory paid-sick-leave ordinances are already stretching the resources of small businesses.

For example, Thompson said, employers in San Francisco are required to provide up to 72 hours of paid sick leave.

"Thus, small employers already dealing with the costs related to the minimum-wage increases and state and local paid-sick-leave laws will face an added burden if this bill is passed," Groff said.

Bill Resurrected

The New Parent Leave Bill was "resurrected this August after it failed to pass the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee in June," Groff mentioned.

"According to an Aug. 12 press release from Sen. Jackson, the legislation has support from Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, who both helped revive the proposal," she said. "This would indicate growing support and momentum in the bill's favor.

Editor's Note: The California Legislature passed S.B. 654 on Aug. 31. It will be sent to the governor for signature or veto.

Update: Gov. Brown vetoed S.B. 654 on Sept. 30.



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