Last Friday, September 11th, was the last day for any bill to pass the Legislature this year. One of the most closely watched bills was SB 406, a measure that expands the California Family Leave Act (CFRA). This bill was labeled a “job killer” by the California Chamber of Commerce. Despite that designation, SB 406 made it out of the Assembly on a 41-29 vote. The bill is now on the Governor’s desk.
SB 406 was introduced by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara). As introduced, SB 406 would have expanded coverage of the CFRA to any employer with five employees, instead of the current 50. Later the threshold was amended to 25 employees, and then back to the present 50. So as passed, SB 406 does not increase the number of employers covered by the CFRA.
However, SB 406 does expand the reasons an employee may use leave for under the CFRA. Under SB 406, an employee may use CFRA leave to care for a sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic partner, or parent-in-law with a serious health condition. These categories of family members are new to the CFRA. SB 406 also allows parents working for the same employer to each take 12 weeks of leave instead of being limited to a combined total of 12 weeks for the birth of a child.
- The biggest worry about SB 406 was that, as initially introduced, it would have dramatically expanded the CFRA by decreasing the threshold for coverage to 5 employees. According to the author, 40% of employees in California currently cannot use CFRA because they work for employers that fall under the 50-employee threshold. However, as noted above, the final version of SB 406 eliminated any change to the employee threshold.
- However, SB 406 does expand the scope of the CFRA. So if it becomes law, public agencies will have to take note of its provisions. For example, employees will now be able to take CFRA leave to care for a grandparent with a serious health condition. Notably, care of a grandparent is not covered under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Thus, an employee could conceivably take 12 weeks of leave under CFRA to care for a grandparent and then another 12 weeks to care for the employee’s own serious health condition.
- SB 406 also eliminates an exception in the CFRA that limits parents who work for the same employer to only 12 weeks of combined leave for the birth of a child. With the amendment, one parent can take 12 weeks and then the other parent can take 12 weeks. Also, because SB 406 adds parent-in-law to the definition of eligible family members, an employee and his/her spouse could each also take a separate 12 weeks to care for one of the employee’s parents.