Expansion of bonding rights for California parents
Thanks to the SB-63, introduced by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, California parents who work for smaller employers will now be allowed to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave to bond with a new child. During that time, their employers will be required to continue their group health coverage benefits. Government Code Section 12945.6, known as the New Parent Leave Act, will make bonding leave available to millions of additional workers — an estimated 16% of the California workforce who did not previously have this right.
To be eligible for the 12 weeks of leave under the New Parent Leave Act, the following criteria apply:
- The employee must have at least 12 months of service with the employer;
- The employee must have at least 1,250 hours of service during the prior 12 months; and
- The employee must works at a worksite with at least 20 employees within 75 miles.
The employee can take the bonding leave within one year of a child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement.
Existing law, the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”), provides similar parental leave rights to employees who work for larger employers, with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the covered employee’s workplace. This new law will protect California employees at smaller workplaces, with only 20 to 49 employees within 75 miles, and does not apply to those already covered by CFRA and the FMLA.
Rights under the New Parent Leave Act
Under the New Parent Leave Act:
- The employer must provide an eligible employee with 12 weeks of job-protected bonding leave;
- The employer must provide a guarantee of employment in the same or a comparable position at the end of the leave, and must do so at or before the beginning of the leave;
- The employer must allow the employee to use accrued vacation pay, paid sick time, other accrued paid time off, or other time negotiated with the employer;
- The employer must maintain and pay for group health coverage at the level and under the conditions that would have been provided if the employee had continued to work in their position for the duration of the leave; and
- The employer cannot retaliate against an employee for exercising the right to take parental leave or participating in an inquiry or proceeding regarding their own or someone else’s parental leave.
While leave under the New Parent Leave Act is not paid by the employer (unless using accrued paid time off), the employee can receive up to six weeks of partial wage replacement from the State for bonding time.
Parental leave is in addition to pregnancy disability leave
The 12 weeks are in addition to the up to four months of pregnancy disability leave (PDL) available to women who work for employers with five or more employees. PDL has no eligibility requirements, and covers time off when a mother is disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.
If an employee does not return from bonding leave for reasons other than the continuation, recurrence, or onset of a serious health condition or other circumstances beyond the employee’s control, the employer can seek to recover the insurance premiums paid while on leave.
If both parents work for the same company, their leave entitlement is capped at 12 weeks total. The employer may, but is not required to, grant simultaneous leave to both parents.
The New Parent Leave Act will incorporate existing CFRA regulations to govern leave under the Act.
Through January 1, 2020, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing shall create and operate a parental leave mediation pilot program to allow employers to request mediation within 60 days of receiving a right-to-sue notice. A civil action cannot be filed until that time passes, mediation is complete, or an employee gives proper notice that they are electing not to participate in the program.
California has offered paid family leave through the State for years, yet many parents have been unable to benefit from it because their jobs were not protected while they were on leave. The New Parent Leave Act will allow millions more Californians to bond with their new children, benefiting families and society as a whole.
For more on the barriers to family leave that families face, you can read my four-part series:
Barriers to Family Leave, Part 1
Barriers to Family Leave, Part 2
Barriers to Family Leave, Part 3
Barriers to Family Leave, Part 4