Understanding California Family Medical Leave


San Francisco, CA: When it comes to understanding employment rights, areas such as family leave can be complicated. That’s because family medical leave is covered federally by the Family and Medical Leave Act but is covered in California by the California Family Rights Act. Ultimately, though, it means eligible employees are able to take up to 12 weeks off, paid or unpaid, for certain reasons.

Those reasons include the birth of a child, or adoption, or foster care placement of a child; to care for an immediate family member (that is a spouse, child or parent) who has a serious health condition; or for the employee’s own serious health condition. During FMLA/CFRA leave, the employee’s job is protected, meaning the employee is entitled to return to the same position of employment he or she had when the FMLA/CFRA leave began, or an equivalent position.

Those eligible for FMLA/CFRA leave include employees who have worked for the employer at least 12 months as of the start of the FMLA/CFRA leave and has worked at least 1,250 hours during those months, not counting sick leave, vacation leave or holidays. Under FMLA, employees must also work at a location with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

Employees who are eligible for leave under FMLA/CFRA but are denied that leave may be able to file a lawsuit against their employer for violation of these laws. Similarly, employees who take their leave but are not reinstated to their position (or an equivalent position) of employment may also be eligible to file a lawsuit.

There are situations in which employers can terminate an employee on FMLA leave, but in such cases there must be evidence that either the decision to terminate was made before the employee took the leave, or that the employee had been non-compliant or had serious on-the-job performance issues that existed before the leave was taken.

If those circumstances do not exist, employees may be able to file a lawsuit against their employer. Claims against employers can include interference, which is defined as refusing to authorize legitimate CFRA leave, discouraging an employee from taking CFRA leave and avoiding employer responsibilities under CFRA, according to The National Law Review (3/26/15). For example, an employer who reduced an employee’s hours of work so the employee is no longer eligible for CFRA leave could count as interference. Employers who discriminate against an employee for taking CFRA leave or who retaliate for taking CFRA leave may also face claims of interference.

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