Family and medical leave requests are among the greatest challenges for California companies, especially small businesses. But it is crucial to understand federal and state laws granting certain rights to employees to take a leave of absence from the workplace.
Businesses that violate laws granting protections for workers over medical, pregnancy, parenting and family leave can face lawsuits and administrative fines. In some cases, supervisors are held personally responsible for violations.
Federal and state leave laws covering workers
Most employers must follow the rules contained in the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA provisions apply to companies with 50 or more employees, while the CFRA applies to businesses with five or more workers. Both laws provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off each year for employees who:
- Have a serious health condition
- Are the caretaker for a family member with a serious health condition
- Need time to bond with a newborn baby, foster child or adopted child
- Care for a family member suffering from a condition related to military service
The FMLA allows covered workers to use up to 26 weeks per year to care for an injured or ill service member. Both the federal and state laws provide job protection as employers cannot retaliate against workers who qualify.
Which employees are eligible?
To be covered under the CFRA and FMLA, workers must be employed for at least 12 months and work a minimum of 1,250 hours before they are eligible for leave. Under FMLA rules, the employee must also work at a site for a company that has 50 or more employees working within 75 miles of the workplace.
Leave rules are different for pregnant workers
Leave options for pregnant employees are covered under California’s Paid Family Leave (PFL) or State Disability Insurance (SDI) programs. Both provide wage replacement benefits. Here’s a brief look at how they work:
- SDI: Workers can file for disability benefits when a doctor certifies they are unable to work prior to the child’s delivery, to recover from childbirth and other qualifying events.
- PFL: Once the worker recovers from childbirth and is cleared by a doctor to return to work, she can file for up to eight weeks of paid benefits to bond with the child.
Rules governing pregnancy, family and medical leave are complex. Bear in mind that privacy laws limit the information you can request. Working with a knowledgeable employment law attorney to set policies, review information in employee handbooks and respond to complaints is advisable.