California employers with less than 50 employees have been free from the obligation to comply with California and federal laws guaranteeing employee rights to family and medical leaves of absence. On January 1, 2018, that will change.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), which guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave (26 weeks in certain cases) for an employee or family member’s serious medical condition applies to employers of 50 or more. California’s parallel law—the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”), which likewise guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for an employee or family member’s serious medical condition (including leave for caring for a new child), currently also applies to employers of 50 or more. Governor Brown has just signed into law California SB 63, amending the California Family Rights Act to require employers of 20 or more employees to provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave for baby-bonding purposes. Sometimes also called “parental leave,” this new provision will require a broad range of smaller employers with from 20 to 49 employees to provide extended job-protected leave to their eligible employees.
Just as with current law under the FMLA and CFRA, in order to be eligible for baby bonding leave under this expansion of the CFRA’s coverage to smaller employers, an employee must have 12 months of service with the employer, have at least 1,250 hours of service with the employer during the previous 12-month period, and work at a worksite in which the employer employs at least 20 employees within 75 miles. As is also the case under current law under the FMLA and CFRA, an employer must maintain and pay for coverage under a group health insurance plan for an employee who takes this leave. An employer must provide the employee a guarantee of employment in the same or a comparable position upon the termination of the leave, otherwise the employer will be deemed to have refused to allow the leave, in violation of the law.
This expansion of California state law providing job-protected baby bonding, or “parental leave,” to those employed by smaller employers was foretold by last year’s passage of the San Francisco “Paid Parental Leave Ordinance,” which required employers who have employees working in San Francisco to provide supplemental compensation to employees receiving California Paid Family Leave (“PFL”) benefits to bond with a new child, so that covered employees receive up to 100% of their normal weekly wages during 6 weeks of parental leave. Initially applicable to employers with 50 or more employees, San Francisco’s ordinance has phased in to apply to smaller companies during the past year, and effective on January 1, 2108, will also apply to employers with 20 or more employees. Click here for more information on San Francisco’s Paid Parental Leave Ordinance.
The text of the new California law and other legislative information on SB 63 can be found here.