Breaking Down California’s FMLA Law

Posted by Sessions & Kimball |

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave during any 12-month period. This means that if an employee takes 12 weeks of FMLA leave, they are entitled to return to the same position with the same pay and benefits as before. 

During this time, employers must maintain health insurance coverage for their employees who are on leave as if they were still working. Additionally, employers cannot interfere with or deny any employee’s right to take FMLA leave.

Who is Covered Under FMLA?

Under the FMLA, eligible employees are those who work at companies with 50 or more employees and work within 75 miles of their primary work site. To qualify for leave under the FMLA, an employee must have worked at his or her company for at least 12 months (for at least 1,250 hours in those 12 months) prior to taking leave.

California’s Family Rights Act (CFRA)

California has its own state-level family medical leave act, known as The California Family Rights Act (CFRA), which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave over a 12-month period to eligible employees. To be eligible for CFRA leave, your employer must have five or more workers, and you must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to taking the leave. 

Reasons for Leave 

There are several reasons an employee may take CFRA leave:

  • Their own serious health condition – A serious health condition requires either at-home care or inpatient care in a hospital/hospice, or continuing treatment by a physician/health care practitioner. It can be a physical or mental condition. 
  • Caring for a family member (child, parent, spouse, grandparent or grandchild, or sibling with a serious health condition)
  • Bonding with a new child – within 12 months of birth, adoption, or foster care placement
  • Qualifying exigency military leave – short notice deployment, military events and activities, and spending time with a covered military member on short-term leave

Under the provisions of the California Family Rights Act, employees are entitled to certain protections while taking CFRA leave. These protections include:  

  • Continued health insurance coverage
  • Job protection—employers cannot terminate or demote employees due to taking a protected leave
  • Reinstatement rights—upon returning from their approved leave, employers must reinstate the employee back into their position, or one of similar seniority and pay
  • Prohibited discrimination and retaliation—employers may not discriminate against an employee based on their use of protected leaves under this law  

Maternity Leave Under FMLA

FMLA also guarantees job protection for the duration of an employee’s maternity leave. This means that employers cannot fire or demote them while they are away from work due to pregnancy or childbirth-related issues. 

Additionally, employers must reinstate employees returning from their FMLA leaves in their previous positions—or equivalent positions with equal pay and other benefits—if those positions are still available when they return.   

Employers must also continue any employer-provided health insurance coverage during an employee’s time away from work under the FMLA. Employers can require workers on maternity leaves to pay their portion of premiums during their absences; however, they cannot require employees to use paid time off (PTO) while on maternity leaves. Furthermore, employers cannot deny an employee’s request for maternity leave simply because she has used PTO in the past.  

The rules surrounding CFRA and FMLA can be complicated, so if you think your employer is violating your rights under the law—or if you want additional information about how it works—consulting a qualified leave of absence attorney is always wise. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.