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Family Leave Protections Extended to 2.8 Million More Workers in California as of January 1, 2018


More than 2.8 million California employees have something to celebrate this year. Effective  January 1, 2018, SB 63 becomes law, giving those employees working for small businesses the opportunity to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to bond with their newborn, for adoption, or for placement of a foster child without the threat of losing their jobs. Previously, the California Family Rights Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act only extended protections to employees working with employers who had 50 or more employees. Under SB 63, small businesses with at least 20 workers will now be required to extend job-protected leave.

Background of Senate Bill 63 and Changes to California Family Leave Program 

California was the first state in the country to enact a paid family leave program back in 2004, allowing parents to receive a percentage of their wages while taking job-protected leave. However, like other state and federal laws, paid family leave only applied to workers in larger businesses of 50 or more employees. Unfortunately, the law left many employees working for small businesses without recourse as they were not covered and thus were not guaranteed a job under state law when they returned to work.

With changes to the law, individuals who work for companies employing between 20-49 workers will also be eligible for paid family leave. In other words, people who work for smaller employers and medium-sized companies will be eligible for paid leave benefits. Only about two out of every five parents who was eligible for paid family leave in 2011 actually applied “because they feared losing their job or other negative consequences at work.” Given that the law will now apply to even more workers, it is important to highlight that retaliation is prohibited, and that seeking benefits such as paid family leave is cannot threaten your job.

Senate Bill 63 and Parental Leave Time 

Signed by Governor Brown in 2017, SB 63 amends the existing Moore-Brown-Roberti Family Rights Act (also known as the California Family Rights Act (CFRA)) to incorporate a larger number of businesses under the Act (modifying from employers with 50 employees to 20). The CFRA made it “an unlawful practice for an employer . . . to refuse to grant a request by an eligible employee to take up to 12 workweeks of unpaid protected leave during any 12-month period” to care for a child born to or adopted by the employee, to care for the employee’s parent or spouse with a serious health condition, or for the employee to deal with her own serious health condition.

Under existing law in California, an employee who has been disabled as a result of pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition to take up to four months of unpaid leave.

What does SB 63 change? The bill prohibits an employer “from refusing to allow an employee with more than 12 months of service with the employer, who has at least 1,250 hours of services with the employer during the previous 12-month period, and who works at a worksite in which the employer employs at least 20 employees within 75 miles, to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement.” If an employee meets the requirement for leave, then the new law allows that employee to take leave time to bond with a new child.

If you have questions about your right for family bonding leave or think you have been denied family bonding leave under California law, you should discuss your concerns with an experienced California employee rights attorney.


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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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