Why it matters

The California legislature ended its session recently by sending several employment-related bills to Governor Jerry Brown's desk for a signature. Senate Bill 654 would expand parental leave protections in the state by requiring small businesses—those with 20 to 49 employees—to provide six weeks of unpaid maternity and paternity leave. Currently, only employers with 50 or more workers are required to provide parental leave. Continuing the focus on equal pay, Assembly Bill 1676 would prohibit employers from considering the prior salary of an applicant as a basis for disparity in compensation, while Senate Bill 1063 would extend last year's Fair Pay Act to include race and ethnicity, banning employers from paying employees a lower wage than that paid to employees of a different race or ethnicity for substantially similar work. Gov. Brown already signed one bill into law with a major shift for agricultural employers, providing a phased-in period of overtime payment for such workers.

Detailed discussion

As the end of the California legislative session drew near, lawmakers scurried to pass bills and managed to send several to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown for consideration. Below are a few of the measures proposed by legislators that require action by Gov. Brown by September 30.

  • If signed by Gov. Brown, Senate Bill 654 would bring small employers into the fold of the parental leave requirements. Currently, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) applies to employers with 50 or more workers, requiring them to provide for at least 12 weeks of job-protected parental leave. The New Parent Leave Act would expand prior law to include employers with 20 to 49 employees, who would be entitled to up to six weeks of job-protected parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child's birth, adoption, or foster care placement. SB 654 contains many similar provisions to the CFRA, from eligibility for leave (employees must have worked 1,250 hours in the prior 12-month period) to guaranteed reinstatement of the worker to the same or comparable employment upon the return from leave. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) said the new measure—which would take effect January 1, 2018—would extend parental leave protections to an additional 2.7 million employees in California, or 16 percent of the state's workforce.
  • Two new bills would expand upon last year's Fair Pay Act with changes to considerations for employers deciding on a salary amount as well as providing protections for race and ethnicity. Similar to the Act to Establish Pay Equity recently passed in Massachusetts, Assembly Bill 1676 would no longer allow employers to consider prior salary as a reason to justify disparity in compensation. A second measure, Senate Bill 1063, would add two new protected categories to the Fair Pay Act: race and ethnicity. The Wage Equality Act would prohibit employers from paying employees a wage rate less than the rate paid to employees of a different race or ethnicity for substantially similar work, using the same evidentiary standards and burdens set forth in the amended Act.
  • One bill already signed by Gov. Brown: Assembly Bill 1066, which created a four-year phase-in process to pay agricultural workers overtime. Starting January 1, 2019, employers must pay agricultural workers overtime after they reach 9.5 hours or 55 hours per workweek, with the number of hours requiring overtime decreasing each year until January 1, 2022, when overtime is required after the workers reach 8 hours per day or 40 hours per week. Once that point is reached, employers must also pay no less than double the regular rate of pay when an employee works more than 12 hours in a given day. The new law provides an extra three years of phasing in for employers that have 25 or fewer workers.

To read SB 654, click here.

To read AB 1676, click here.

To read SB 1063, click here.

To read AB 1066, click here.