California Enacts Major Expansion to the California Family Rights Act
SB 1383 expands the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”) to cover small employers and expands family leave rights to include care for siblings, grandparents, and grandchildren. Signed into law on September 17, 2020, SB 1383 represents a dramatic expansion of the CFRA, which is California’s state law version of the federal Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). SB 1383 will be effective on January 1, 2021.
SB 1383 expands CFRA coverage to include any employer employing five or more employees. Before SB 1383, CFRA applied to a given worksite only if the employer employed at least 50 employees within 75 miles of that worksite. As a result, CFRA excluded most small businesses and many satellite offices of mid-size and larger businesses. SB 1383 will undoubtedly bring thousands of new employers within the ambit of the CFRA.
SB 1383 provides that eligible employees will be able to take CFRA family medical leave to care for a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or domestic partner. Previously, eligible employees could only take CFRA family medical leave to care for children, parents, spouses, and registered domestic partners, or because of the employee’s own serious health condition.
SB 1383 also expands the baby bonding leave rights of employees of small employers. For a long time, CFRA has allowed eligible new parents to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave for baby bonding within one year of the birth or adoption of a child. When combined with pregnancy-disability leave, an eligible new mother could take up to 29 1/3 weeks of combined pregnancy-disability leave and CFRA baby bonding leave following childbirth. With the passage of SB 1383, employers with five or more employees will also be required to make this combined leave period available to new mothers.
In addition, under prior law, if both new parents worked for the same employer, the employer was only required to provide a combined total of 12 weeks of CFRA baby-bonding leave to both parents. SB 1383 requires that an employer provide 12 weeks of CFRA baby bonding leave to each parent.
CFRA leave is unpaid leave, but an employer must continue to pay its share of the employee’s health insurance premiums during the leave. CFRA leave can often be taken on an intermittent basis. With limited exceptions, employees returning from CFRA leave are entitled to reinstatement to the same job position or to a comparable job position.
The Governor also signed into law AB 1867, which creates a pilot mediation program for employers with between 5 and 19 employees. Under the law, an eligible employer may insist on non-binding mediation of any CFRA claim before the employee can pursue a lawsuit. While SB 1383’s expansion of CFRA coverage is permanent, the mediation-exhaustion requirement and the pilot mediation program provided for in AB 1867 are scheduled to end on January 1, 2024.