Small Employers in California Must Offer Newborn Bonding Leave for Parents as of January 1, 2018

A new state law expands parental leave for those employees not previously covered by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and California’s Family Rights Act (CFRA) which requires employers with 50 or more employees offer 12 weeks of unpaid family leave.

Under the new California law, employers with 20 to 49 employees must now offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave for parents, both mothers and fathers, to bond with newborn infants, biological, adopted or foster children. The new law affects about 16% of the California workforce, or about 2.7 million employees. (Source, California Employment Development Department).  Employers must continue the employee’s benefits, and must hold their job open. The law goes into effect January 1, 2018.  This applies only to employers that are not subject to FMLA leave, as they have less than 50 employees.

There are certain eligibility requirements. Employees must have worked for the employer a minimum of 12 months (1,250 hours in the previous 12-month period), and work at a job site at which the employer has at least 20 employees at the site or within a 75-mile radius of the job site.  Employees may use any accrued paid time off, such as paid vacation or sick leave, during the parental leave.

If both parents work for the same small employer, they are entitled to a combined 12 weeks off. Additionally, if a parent fails to return to work after the birth, adoption or foster placement, the employer is allowed to seek return of some of the health premiums paid on the employee’s behalf during that period.

This will require some creativity for small employers, where there is often little job redundancy. Employers should be prepared with policies, training for their human resource team and other managers, and review and revise, as necessary, leaves of absence forms and procedures. Pregnancy and post-partum discrimination claims are on the rise, and can be expensive. Employers can minimize this risk with proper training and procedures.