On October 12, 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 63, or the New Parent Leave Act, effective January 1, 2018. The intent behind SB 63 is to provide employees of small companies job-protection leave similar that of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) which currently apply to employers with 50 or more employees.
Who is Covered?
An employee is eligible for the leave if he/she 1) has at least 12 months of service with the employer, 2) has at least 1,250 hours of service with the employer during the previous 12-month period, and 3) works at a worksite in which the employer employs at least 20 employees within 75 miles. The new law does not apply to an employee who is covered under both CFRA and the FMLA.
What type of leave is provided to employees?
The New Parent Leave Act (SB 63) requires employers with between 20 and 49 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected parental leave to bond with a new child. Parents may take this leave within one year of the child's birth, adoption or foster care placement. If, before the start of the leave, the employer does not provide the employee with a guarantee of employment in the same or a comparable position following the leave, they will be deemed to have refused to allow the leave. In other words, a covered employer is required to provide up to 12 weeks of “job-protected” unpaid leave to covered employees for new parental responsibilities. Similar to FMLA and CFRA, an employee is entitled to utilize accrued vacation pay, paid sick time, other accrued paid time off, or other paid or unpaid time off negotiated with the employer, during the period of parental leave.
The bill specifies it will be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to:
- Refuse to allow an eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of the bonding leave;
- Refuse to provide a guarantee of employment in the same or a comparable position before the start of the leave;
- Refuse to maintain and pay for continued group health coverage for employees during the duration of the parental leave at the same level and under the same conditions that would have been provided had the employee continued to work;
- Refuse to hire, or to discharge, fine, suspend, expel, or discriminate against an individual because:
- An individual's exercise of the right to bonding leave;
- An individual's giving information or testimony as to his or her own bonding leave, or another person's bonding leave, in an inquiry or proceeding concerning the bonding leave.
- Interfere with, restrain, or deny the exercise of, or the attempt to exercise any right provided with respect to the bonding leave.
Mediation Pilot Program
To avoid the same fate as a similar bill last year (SB 654-Jackson provided 6 weeks of parental leave), SB 63's author, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, inserted language creating a parental leave mediation pilot program. Under the program, if an employer receives notice regarding an employee's claim of violation of the parental leave law, the employer may request to mediate the dispute in a special Mediation Division Program within the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). An employee may not pursue any civil action concerning the parental leave until the mediation is complete. The pilot program will be in effect until January 1, 2020.
Impact on California Employers
First, something that could fall under the “frequently asked questions” category–what happens if an employer covered by SB 63 employs both parents entitled to the leave? In this case, the employer is not required to grant bonding leave that would allow the parents leave totaling more than 12 weeks. Second, what happens if a covered employee becomes disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition? In this case, the employee is eligible for up to four months of pregnancy disability leave and up to 12 weeks of bonding leave.
California employers with between 20 and 49 employees should closely examine and revise their leave policies to reflect the new requirements of SB 63. Should you have questions about the New Parent Leave Act, or any of California's labor laws, don't hesitate to to contact leading employment lawyers at Kingsley & Kingsley prior to SB 63's effective date of January 1, 2018. Feel free to call us toll-free at (888) 500-8469 or click here to contact us via email.
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