California Governor Vetoes Expanded Parental Leave Bill

Bill would have required businesses with 20-49 employees to offer baby-bonding leave

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California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have required more employers in the state to provide baby-bonding leave to new parents.

The New Parent Leave Bill, Senate Bill 654, would have imposed obligations on small employers with as few as 20 employees to provide leave for new parents to bond with their child, explained Scott Witlin, an attorney with Barnes & Thornburg in Los Angeles.

The bill, which Brown returned to the state senate unsigned on Sept. 30, would have provided eligible employees with up to six weeks of protected baby-bonding leave in the first year following the child's birth, adoption or foster care placement.

Under current law in California, employers with five or more employees are required to provide up to four months of leave to women who become disabled by pregnancy, childbirth or a related medical condition.

Existing law also provides eligible employees—male and female—with 12 weeks of baby-bonding leave if their employer has at least 50 employees. 

"Current law exempts smaller employers from similar obligations because most small companies do not have the ability to have other workers pick up the slack," Witlin said.

Also, most small employers do not have the support staff to address the administrative burdens associated with tracking and monitoring leaves, he said.

An earlier version of the bill that failed to pass the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee would have required businesses with as few as 10 employees to provide 12 weeks of parental leave, noted Susan Groff, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Los Angeles. 

Impact on Small Businesses

In Brown's letter to the state senate explaining his reasons for vetoing the bill, he mentioned the importance of parent-child bonding. "I am concerned, however, about the impact of this leave, particularly on small businesses, and the potential liability that could result," he said.

"While the leave would have been unpaid if the bill had passed, there would have been other costs associated with the leave, including maintenance of employee medical coverage during the leave and covering employees' job duties while on leave through either temporary workers or payment of overtime to other employees," Groff said.

"Thus, small employers already dealing with the costs related to the minimum-wage increases and state and local paid-sick-leave laws would have faced an added burden if this bill would have passed."

What's Next?

The author of the bill, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said she will continue to advance the issue of parental leave. 

"As many states move forward with strong policies for parental leave, California cannot afford to be left behind," Jackson said in a press statement.

"We suspect this is not the last we have heard of parental leave," Groff noted.

"In the meantime, employers must continue to provide employees with California's other various leave entitlements, such as paid sick leave, kin care and pregnancy disability leave, to name a few," she said.

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