The California Family and Medical Leave Act (CFMLA): Your Rights

Posted by: kevensteinberg
Category: Employment Law
Parents holding newborn baby at home

Employment laws have improved greatly during the 20th and 21st centuries to better protect workers’ interests. Prior to the U.S. government and individual states enacting laws to protect employees, employees had to rely solely on their employers’ whims. This, more often than not, did not work in their favor and—in many cases—led to the unfair exploitation of employees.

Fast-forward several decades, and many important laws designed to protect workers have been passed at both the federal and state levels. Two important laws directly impacting modern-day workers are the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and, for Californians, the California Family and Medical Leave Act (CFMLA).

In this article, we will explain the definitions of FMLA and the CFMLA and take a deeper dive into the particulars of each law. We’ll also more closely examine the benefits and legal protections each law provides for you as an employee.

What is the Family and Medical Leave Act?

In 1993, the U.S. government passed legislation that made sweeping changes to employment law. That year, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which empowered employees as it guaranteed they would still have a job if they had to take family-related leave while working for a public agency, public or private school, or for an employer with 50 or more employees.

Reasons for leave covered under the FMLA include the birth of a new child, taking care of an adopted or foster child, recovering from a serious illness, caring for a sick family member, or taking care of yourself due to pregnancy complications. This critical law protects workers and reassures them they will still be employed upon return from their absence.

When can you use the FMLA to take an unpaid leave?

Many wonder how much workers receive through paid family and medical leave laws. The answer to this question may depend upon the individual employer because there is no governing requirement for employers to provide employees with extended paid leave. This does not mean no employer will ever offer it, but it does mean they do not have to do so by law.

The FMLA is designed to ensure job protection by providing eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave each year. The law also requires employers to maintain the qualifying employees’ group health benefits during their medical leave.

That said, under some circumstances, states may have their own rules regarding paid leave. For instance, in California, you may be eligible for some paid family leave under its individual laws.

What is the California Family and Medical Leave Act (CFMLA)?

The California Family and Medical Leave Act (CFMLA) (also known as the California Family Rights Act, or CRFA) is an essential law for all employees to understand. There may come a time when you need to take a leave of absence from work to take care of yourself or a designated member of your family for a medical condition, emergency health-related situation, or other familial-based reason covered by the law. California’s version of the law generally mirrors the federal FMLA. Still, there are a few minor differences in its version of the Family Medical Leave Act, which you should know about.

Your rights under CFMLA

Under California’s rules, your job is protected when you take unpaid medical or family-related leave to take care of your medical needs, care for a seriously ill family member, bond with a new child, or participate in “a qualifying event because of a family member’s military deployment to a foreign country.”

This means your employer cannot fire you or give your job to someone else in your absence because you took leave after meeting the eligibility rules for California’s FMLA version of the law.

Upon your return, your employer must bring you back after your absence to the same job or an equivalent position. Your employer also cannot retaliate against you in any way for choosing to take eligible CFRA leave when you need it rightfully.

How long can workers receive benefits under Paid Family and Medical Leave laws? 

In 2020, California expanded its version of the FMLA. The new requirements now require employers with five or more employees to provide the standard 12 weeks of job-protected family leave. This means that larger employers are not the only ones required to adhere to California’s CRFA rules; smaller companies must also allow their employees to take leave for a new child, medical reason, or other covered familial situation.

Employers may also permit their employees to use additional leave, such as company-provided paid sick leave, vacation pay, or other allotted leave, so they can continue to receive wages while away from work. Some employees may also meet the criteria for additional leave, such as Pregnancy Disability Leave or State Disability Insurance.

The FMLA law does allow for intermittent leave for chronic conditions if the employee needs to take smaller blocks of time to reduce their work schedule, help them manage their eligible condition, or provide family care to an eligible child or relative. Additionally, if the employee qualifies for both the federal FMLA and CFMLA, the leave will run concurrently.

How many hours must you work to qualify for FMLA in California? 

According to California law, an employee who meets the criteria for leave must have worked for the employer for a minimum of one year and have put in 1,250 hours of service in the past year. Employees must also provide reasonable notice to their employer before taking leave.

For example, in some cases, such as the impending birth or adoption of a child, you would be able to provide ample notice, at least 30 days. Understandably, in an emergency situation or unexpected health crisis, you would be required to give your employer notice as soon as you reasonably can before exercising your right to take job-protected leave.

Do you still get medical benefits during your leave?

According to California’s FMLA rules, your employer would still be obligated to pay for continuing your current group healthcare benefits with the same terms and conditions you would have if you didn’t take leave. This healthcare coverage obligation only applies if your employer already typically pays for your healthcare, e.g., they wouldn’t be required to purchase a new healthcare plan specifically for you to use during your leave. 

What types of documentation are required? 

As an eligible employee, you should supply your employer with documentation from a healthcare provider. Your paperwork should include details about your medical condition, need for leave, and how long you plan to be absent from work. Depending on your situation, when you are ready to return, you may need to provide fitness-for-duty certification from your healthcare provider, confirming you can perform your job.

Employer Obligations and Compliance

Your employer has specific obligations and compliance criteria regarding family leave for a medical reason or other familial situation that qualifies under the California Rights Act and other federal and state employment laws.

Responsibilities of employers under CFMLA 

Employers must recognize and respond to the CFMLA leave request submitted by a covered employee. This means the employer is required to provide timely responses to requests, usually within five business days. They also are responsible for informing employees of their eligibility to take family leave.

The employer is also required to maintain FMLA/CFMLA records for specified periods of time—typically, this would be for approximately three years. The employer should also track employees’ data and payroll, along with any family leave documentation requests, certifications, or other paperwork related to taking leave.

Notice requirements for employees

Under state rules, California employers are required to communicate leave rights to employees. To do this, they must post a notice informing employees of their rights outlined in the CFMLA and its provisions. Employers also must include an FMLA notice in their employee handbook to provide employees with an easy reference about their rights. Providing notices to employees ensures they understand and recognize their rights so they know how to pursue taking FMLA leave if the need ever arises.

Interaction between CFMLA and other leave policies

The federal FMLA, Pregnancy Disability Leave, and CFMLA all have similar provisions and, in many cases, will run concurrently. However, this doesn’t apply to all situations. You are always encouraged to consult with an experienced California labor attorney so you know how any of these or other related laws pertain to your particular set of circumstances. Your attorney can also work with you to submit the correct paperwork promptly.

Common violations of family leave laws made by employers.

Employers are supposed to follow the laws stipulated by the federal government and the State of California. Unfortunately, there are times when employers violate family leave laws, especially if they do not familiarize themselves with and/or fully understand their legal obligations. Common ways an employer may violate the CFMLA include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Failing to provide notice about the CFMLA or informing employees of their rights.
  • Denying employees from taking eligible FMLA leave by failing to recognize qualifying or serious health conditions.
  • Disciplining an employee for taking family leave or taking any retaliatory actions against the employee for tending to eligible needs.
  • Firing an employee for their absence when taking time off work for a qualifying and covered FMLA reason.
  • Failing to reinstate an employee to their same or equal position when they return from taking covered CFMLA leave.
  • Reinstating the employee to a lesser position, misclassifying their employment, or otherwise setting limits on the employee’s benefits (e.g., pay, benefits, schedule, and responsibilities) upon their return from FMLA leave.

Consequences for violating CFMLA provisions

Employers who fail to comply with the CFMLA intentionally or even unintentionally can suffer severe consequences. Employees who feel their rights have been violated can file complaints and/or take legal action against the employer. If an employer is found in violation of family leave laws, it may be obligated to pay back wages and any damages, along with other potential penalties.

As an employee, if you feel your employer is failing to comply with state laws, you should speak with an experienced employment law attorney. Your lawyer can look at the particulars of your case, assess the situation, and, if it appears the employer did indeed violate FMLA, assemble a case against them.

Bottom Line: Employers Must Adhere to California Labor Laws

Californian workers are legally entitled to take family leave, provided their situation qualifies under the CFMLA. If you find the need arises to take extended leave to tend to and bond with your new baby, attend to a medical emergency, take care of an eligible family member’s health situation, or for another reason covered under the law, you do have rights and should advocate for yourself.

As an employee, one of the best ways to become empowered is to arm yourself with knowledge and learn about your entitlements under the CFMLA—familiarize yourself with them before you need them. This way, you are prepared for what to expect and what steps you’ll need to take if the need ever arises.

If you do apply for CFMLA or another type of legally allowed family leave, and your employer is uncooperative, commits wrongful termination, gives you a difficult time, makes threats of demotion or firing, or otherwise violates the law, it is a good idea to seek help from an experienced employment and labor attorney. Your attorney can examine the particulars of your case and help you take action to make certain your rights are preserved and you do not lose your job, wages, benefits, and more.

Did Your Employer Violate Your Rights? Steinberg Law Can Help

Steinberg Law is fully versed in both the California FMLA and the federal government’s version of the FMLA. If you believe your California employer is denying your employee rights to take leave to manage your qualifying family situation, our law firm can help. California employers are legally obligated to adhere to The California Family and Medical Leave Act; if they do not, you may have recourse to file a case against them.

Contact us at (818) 855-1103 to schedule a consultation about your case. Or, if you prefer, fill out our convenient online form and leave your contact information. A member of our legal team will get back to you to schedule an appointment to discuss your situation with our law office.

Are you facing another type of employment-related issue? As a California employee, you have rights. Whether you’re facing disability discrimination, pregnancy discrimination, a covered active duty right, or another labor law issue, Steinberg Law is here to help.

Author: kevensteinberg