How Long Can I Take a Leave of Absence From Work in California?

Posted by Sessions & Kimball |

Life can be unpredictable, and sometimes, it may be necessary to take a leave of absence from work. California is known for its employee-friendly leave of absence laws that provide job protection for employees dealing with illness or caring for a sick loved one. It’s important to know your rights. 

California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

In California, two prominent state and federal laws provide job-protected leave for various reasons: the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). 

FMLA laws permit an employee to take leave for:

“Twelve workweeks of leave in a 12-month period for:

  • the birth of a child and to care for the newborn child within one year of birth;
  • the placement with the employee of a child for adoption or foster care and to care for the newly placed child within one year of placement;
  • to care for the employee’s spouse, child, or parent who has a serious health condition;
  • a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job;
  • any qualifying exigency arising out of the fact that the employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent is a covered military member on “covered active duty;” or
  • Twenty-six work weeks of leave during a single 12-month period to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury or illness if the eligible employee is the servicemember’s spouse, son, daughter, parent, or next of kin (military caregiver leave).”

The CFRA “provides eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to care for their own serious health condition or a family member with a serious health condition, or to bond with a new child.”

Differences Between FMLA and CFRA

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) are two important pieces of legislation that grant employees job-protected leave for a variety of reasons. However, there are a few key differences between the two. 

FMLA: Pregnancy as a Serious Health Condition

Under the FMLA, simply being pregnant is covered as a serious health condition (SHC) and eligible employees can take leave for prenatal care, incapacity due to pregnancy, and recovery from childbirth.

CFRA: Pregnancy Disability Leave and Baby Bonding Leave

On the other hand, CFRA does not consider pregnancy itself as a serious health condition. However, California law allows eligible employees who are disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions to take Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) for up to four months.

An eligible CFRA employee “can then take a 12-week CFRA baby bonding leave after the end of their pregnancy disability leave. The first 12 weeks of PDL can run concurrently with FMLA for eligible employees, during which employers must maintain the eligible employee’s health benefits.”

Pregnancy Disability Leave: Regulations and Eligibility

In California, employers with five (5) or more persons are required to adhere to the Pregnancy Disability Leave regulations enforced by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH). These regulations provide job protection, medical benefits continuation, and more for eligible employees.

Employees who are disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions are eligible to take up to four (4) months of unpaid leave as PDL:

All employers must provide a leave of up to four months, as needed, for the period(s) of time an employee is actually disabled because of pregnancy, even if an employer has a policy or practice that provides less than four months of leave for other similarly situated, temporarily disabled employees. Pregnancy disability leave does not need to be taken in one continuous period of time.”

It is important to note that this leave is job-protected, meaning employees are entitled to return to their same or a comparable position upon completion of the leave.

Leave for Drug or Alcohol Rehab

It’s important to be aware of your rights and obligations as an employee when considering taking a leave of absence for drug or alcohol rehabilitation. In California, employers with 25 or more employees must reasonably accommodate employees enrolling in alcohol and/or drug rehabilitation programs, as long as it does not cause undue hardship.

Companies Must Comply With The Laws or Face Legal Consequences

Employers that fail to comply with the requirements of CFRA and FMLA may face legal consequences, including financial liability for damages. This includes cases where an employee is wrongfully terminated for attempting to take a leave of absence under these laws.

Financial Liability for Damages: What Can Employees Recover?

If an employer chooses to ignore the laws governing leaves of absence, affected employees may recover various damages, including:

  • Lost wages
  • Emotional distress damages
  • Punitive damages
  • Attorney’s fees

Settlements from such cases can range from more than a million dollars to as small as reinstatement. It’s crucial for both employers and employees to be well-versed in their rights and obligations under these laws to avoid potential pitfalls. If you need help, contact us to schedule a free consultation