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California enacts important new parental leave law

Last week, California's governor signed a bill that will expand parental leave rights to 2.7 million workers who are otherwise ineligible because they work for a small employer. Before this new legislation, only employees who work for companies with 50 or more employees were guaranteed job protection under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the state California Family Rights Act (CFRA). The new bill provides for up to 12 weeks of job-protected parental leave for workers at companies with 20 to 49 employees.

Before this new parental leave law, California employees of small companies had faced an ironic problem: they were entitled to partial wage replacement benefits through the California Economic Development Department (EDD), but nearly 40% of California's workforce did not have job-protection to go along with the benefits. Many new mothers and fathers of biological, adopted and fostered children did not, therefore, take leave for fear of retaliation in some form: that their employer would be unhappy, their opportunities for promotion would be affected, or they might simply be fired. This law ensures that even smaller employers cannot retaliate against an employee for taking maternity or paternity leave.

The attorneys in Outten & Golden's San Francisco office are proud to have been on the front lines of parental leave policy development and the effort to get this new legislation passed. Research shows that paid family leave, particularly with job protection, increases wage growth and future employment rates for new mothers. Fathers who take parental leave are more engaged with their newborns, promoting greater gender equity at home and at work. In addition, evidence strongly suggests that children enjoy many short- and long-term benefits from parental leave including better health and higher high school graduation rates. The California Legislature and Governor Brown should be commended for taking an important step in protecting the physical, psychological and economic health of California's working families.

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