California Laws Expand Unpaid Leave, Target Wage Inequality

California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) enacted key priorities for the state Legislative Women’s Caucus Oct. 12, signing bills to expand unpaid parenting leave and target wage discrimination.

Brown signed the bills at a nonprofit organization that serves homeless women in Sacramento, surrounded by members of the women’s caucus and organization staff.

“The Legislative Women’s Caucus is once again paving the way toward a better California, and today’s actions will make a positive difference for women, children and families across the state,” Brown said.

Workers at businesses with 20 or more employees will be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a new child starting Jan. 1, 2020, under S.B. 63 by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D). The new law expands the state’s existing mandate of 12 weeks of unpaid, protected family leave for workers in businesses with 50 or more employees.

According to Jackson, the broadened law applies to 6 percent of California employers and covers 2.7 million employees.

Mediation Program

Under the new law, between 2018 and 2020, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing will establish a parental leave mediation pilot program. Under the program, if an employer receives notice that an employee intends to sue for failure to provide leave, the employer can ask that the case go to mediation through the department. Employees will be barred from filing lawsuits until mediation is complete.

Jackson said the mediation program was inserted into the bill to address concerns from Brown and employers that the expanded leave program could expose small businesses to lawsuits. Brown vetoed three similar bills in recent years.

“With more women in the workforce, and more parents struggling to balance work and family responsibilities, our policies must catch up to the realities of our economy and the daily lives of working families,” Jackson said in an Oct.12 news release.

Employer groups opposed the bill, including the California Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Businesses, and the California Retailers Association.

Salary History

Also signed by Brown, A.B. 168 by Assemblywoman Susan Eggman (D) bans employers from seeking the salary history of job applicants. Eggman said the banned practice helps perpetuate wage inequality that mainly affects women.
Eggman’s bill is similar to one Brown vetoed in 2015 because he said he wanted to give a newly enacted equal pay law time to work first.

The bill applies to all private and public sector employers, although government employees could have their salary information disclosed. It also requires private sector employers to provide the pay scale for a position if an applicant makes a reasonable request for it.

Job applicants can voluntarily disclose their salary history, and employers can rely on that information to determine setting a new salary.

A.B. 168 takes effect Jan. 1, 2018.

The bill had support from the California Federation of Teachers and Consumer Attorneys of California. It was opposed by employer groups including the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Retailers Association, and the California Restaurant Association. Public Employers including the Association of California School Administrators and the California State Association of Counties also opposed it.