California Senate bill mandating 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave for small companies passes committee

A California Senate committee passed a new bill that would require smaller businesses to offer three months of job-protected maternity/paternity leave for child-parent bonding. While the state already mandates companies with at least 50 workers to provide 12 weeks of parental leave, Senate Bill 63, the New Parent Leave Act, would apply to companies with 20 to 49 employees.

The Paid Family Leave Program would be funded by employers and offer six weeks of partial wage replacement for caregiving responsibilities. The bill, introduced in December 2016 by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson-D, Santa Barbara, aims to ensure that the 2.7 million Californians who work for smaller companies will have the security of returning to their jobs after spending important bonding time with their newborns.

Research has shown that the first 12 weeks of a child’s life is critical for brain development. Bonding time during the first weeks after birth improves maternal and child health, improves maternal mental health, and allows for a longer period of breastfeeding.

“With more women in the workforce than ever before, supporting working families through more family-friendly workplace policies is an economic issue and an issue of national importance,” Jackson said in a statement.

The California Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill, stating that it would kill jobs by placing the financial burden on small employers, and that failure to provide job-protected leave would constitute unlawful employment practice.

Nationally, SB 63 is not the first of its kind. New York recently passed a law that would eventually require all businesses regardless of size to offer 12 weeks of comprehensive paid family leave. Nine other states and the District of Columbia have passed similar legislation that covers unpaid family leave for employees at small companies.

Implementing policies that protect the wellbeing of California parents and children while guaranteeing their job security is essential. A 2011 study showed that 37 percent of new parents who needed time off did not apply for California Paid Family Leave benefits for fear of any negative employment consequences of doing so.