Small Employers Required to Provide Unpaid Leave for Baby Bonding

On Oct. 12, 2017, Gov. Brown signed SB 63 (the New Parent Leave Act) into law. This law will require certain employers to provide 12 weeks of protected, unpaid leave for parents to bond with a new child within one year of birth, adoption or foster care placement.

This law applies to employers with 20 to 49 employees within a 75-mile radius of one another. To be eligible for parental bonding leave, an employee must have at least 12 months of service and 1,250 hours of service during the 12-month period prior to the beginning of the leave.

Employers must maintain and pay for the employee’s group health plan coverage at the same level and conditions as if the employee were still an active employee. It also protects the employee from discrimination, refusal to hire, termination, retaliation or any other prohibited action for exercising their right to parental leave. However, employers subject to the New Parent Leave Act may recover their portion of the premium if the employee fails to return to work once the leave is exhausted and the failure to return to work is not due to the continuation, reoccurrence or onset of a serious health condition, or “other circumstances beyond the control of the employee.” Further, upon funding from the legislature, the Act also provides for the creation of a two-year pilot mediation program, which aims to quell the impact of civil litigation on small employers by requiring mediation before an employee could file a civil suit.

Therefore, small employers in California should determine whether they are subject to the New Parent Leave Act and update leave policies, forms and procedures to ensure compliance with this law. Because the law impacts other employment law issues, outside counsel is the best option to assist employers with questions and policy drafting and amendments. This law is effective Jan. 1, 2018.

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