CaliforniaThe DOL’s final rule on paid sick leave was not the only news-making event in the world of leave management last Friday.  While additional time off was being lauded by the federal government, additional protected leave was rejected in California. 

On Friday September 30, 2016, California’s Governor Brown vetoed SB 654 (Jackson), the New Parent Leave Act.  The Senate Bill would have created a new protected leave of absence for employers with 20 or more employees within a 75-mile radius in California.   The vetoed bill would have added an additional 6 weeks of “parental leave” to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement leave, thus creating a potential total of over 5 months of protected leave for certain California employees.  The bill also would have prohibited employers from refusing to maintain and pay for coverage under a group health plan for an employee who takes the additional parental leave.

Existing California law requires employers with 5 or more employees to provide up to 4 months of protected leave for an employee who suffers a medical disability due pregnancy.  In addition, employees who meet certain criteria may receive 12 weeks of baby-bonding leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), if their employer has at least 50 employees.  Thus, SB 654 would have expanded bonding entitlements to employers with 20-49 employees.

In the Governor’s letter explaining his veto of the bill to the Members of the California State Senate, the Governor stated “allowing new parents to bond with a child is very important and the state has a number of paid and unpaid benefit programs to provide for that leave.  I am concerned, however, about the impact of this leave particularly on small businesses and the potential liability that could result.”  California already provides several programs and protected leaves of absence to employees, evidencing the State’s consideration for family related leave.  California provides paid sick leave, school activities leave, kin care, pregnancy disability leave, protections under the California Family Rights Act (for larger employers), and the paid family leave program. 

Critics of the bill previously had raised the argument that for many small businesses, employees taking five-and-a-half months of leave due to an employee’s pregnancy plus parental leave would present a real hardship.  Moreover, even though the parental leave would have been unpaid, other associated costs, including maintaining employee medical benefits and covering job duties while the employee is on leave, would have been especially challenging for small employers.

In a statement on her website, the bill’s author State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) stated she was “deeply disappointed in [the] veto.”  However, Senator Jackson asserts that “[w]ith more women in the workforce than ever before, supporting working families through more family-friendly workplace policies has become elevated as a national priority. As many states move forward with strong policies for parental leave, California cannot afford to be left behind. I will continue to work to advance this important issue in the future.”

Although SB 654 was vetoed, California employers likely can expect they have not heard the last of efforts to pass legislation expanding the leave and benefit entitlements of employees with children.