California's "New Employee Leave Act" Will Impact Small Businesses

By Carrie Francis and Javier Torres

While parental leave rights under existing California and federal law only applied to employers with 50 or more employees, a new California law extends employee parent leave rights – and corresponding employer obligations – to employers with 20 to 49 employees.

On October 12, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill No. 63, the "New Employee Leave Act," into law. Under this law, employers with 20 to 49 employees within a 75-mile radius from the worksite must provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to foster bonding with a new baby. Until now, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) required such leave for eligible workers, but these obligations only applied to employers with 50 or more employees. The New Employee Leave Act is similar to the CFRA, while extending this obligation to smaller employers as well. Under the New Employee Leave Act, only employees who have been with the employer for at least 12 months and who have worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer in the past 12 months qualify for the leave. The parental leave provided by the New Employee Leave Act is in addition to time that existing laws allow for expectant mothers during pregnancy.

The act also provides for the creation of a mediation pilot program to be administered by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). Under this plan, employers who receive a right-to-sue notice under the act have 60 days to request mediation of the dispute before the DFEH. If mediation is requested by the employer, the employee cannot sue until mediation is complete.

These new obligations go into effect on January 1, 2018.

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