For many employees, a new child in the family creates an emotional conflict between the need to be at work and the need to be at home. California law currently allows parents to take unpaid leave in order to bond with a new child. Unfortunately, this only applies to employers over a certain size, and millions of workers in California have been left without the legal right to parental leave. Now, a new bill signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown in October 2017 will extend child bonding leave to employees of small businesses, as well.
The New Law
Since 2004, the California Family Rights Act has allowed employees to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave in a year to care for an parent or spouse with a serious health condition, or to recover from that employee’s own serious health condition. The California Family Rights Act also makes provision for leave to bond with a new child, but this provision did not previously apply to small businesses. Starting in 2018, employers with at least twenty employees in a seventy-five mile radius must provide new parents with leave to bond with a child. Up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave may be taken within one year of a child being born, adopted, or placed in foster care with the employee. The employee must have at least one year and 1,250 hours of service with the employer in order to be eligible for child bonding leave. The Sacramento Bee reports that nearly 2.8 million small business workers in California will now have the right to child bonding leave.
The Mediation Program
The law also creates a mediation program through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. Orange County employment lawyers know parents have the right to sue employers who deny a request for child bonding leave, and employers have sixty days from receiving a Right to Sue notice to request mediation through the Department. The employee must then participate in mediation until complete, or affirmatively choose not to resolve the dispute through mediation. This mediation provision is the result of Governor Brown’s 2016 veto of a similar child bonding bill. In his veto message, the governor specifically requested a provision for mediation of these disputes. The mediation provisions of the new law expire in 2020. The success of the program during this two-year test period will likely determine whether it is renewed.
The Future of Family Leave
The new child bonding law has been opposed by business groups and employers. The California Chamber of Commerce not only opposed it, but deemed the measure a “job killer.” In light of these objections and an uncertain mediation program, it is uncertain if -and the extent to which – family leave will be provided in the future. As of January 1, however, small businesses are obligated to provide child bonding leave to employees who qualify for it. Businesses are advised to consult with an experienced California employment attorney to ensure they are in compliance with the new law. Employees should also consult with an attorney to ensure their rights to family leave are adequately protected.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 714-937-2020.
California extends family leave to millions of small business workers, October 12, 2017, by Taryn Luna and Christopher Cadelago, The Sacramento Bee
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More Workers Suing Over Family Leave Discrimination, Report Says, July 4, 2016, Employment Lawyer Blog