FMLA Lawsuits Can be Prevented


Sacramento, CA: It’s a sad commentary on the preparedness of employers that there are so many instances of litigation surrounding the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and the state-centric California Family Rights Act (CFRA) given the wealth and breadth of knowledge available. An employer well-versed and conversant on the Acts, and the respective relationships between the two, can easily prevent an FMLA lawsuit from occurring. What’s more, the latest information is readily available to Human Resources Departments (HR) as well as the public at large.

And yet, according to the California Chamber of Commerce, “FMLA leave act and CFRA issues are among the most litigated of all employment law cases and can result in large liabilities.”

It doesn’t have to be this way. The California Chamber itself provides excellent information on the subject, as well as the state government. Given the availability of this information to the general public, as well as online calculators provided by the State of California for the computing of benefits, an employee reasonably versed in the subject will already know his, or her rights when approaching an employer with a request for leave.

Were that request to be met with a resounding ‘no,’ the employee probably has a good idea about how to respond.

The federal FMLA has been around for some time, and provides qualifying employees with a window of leave for certain situations – most having to do with personal or familial illness, bonding with a newborn child, or other family-related health crises.

A number of states have also enacted state-centric Acts that serve to function as an adjunct to the FMLA, and California is no exception. The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) largely takes its cue from the federal FMLA, with one primary difference: whereas FMLA leave is not paid leave, the CFRA provides for compensation according to various qualifying criteria. This helps the employee to pay the bills and keep his, or her respective head above water financially while away on leave for an approved purpose.

As an example, a new father having met all the criteria and having earned a monthly, pre-tax income of $4,000 per month across an 18-month window would qualify for a weekly benefit of $508, or about half of his stated monthly earnings, for the duration of his leave.

The applicant, according to state guidelines must have welcomed a new child into the family in the past 12 months either through a partner’s pregnancy, adoption, or foster care; have paid into State Disability Insurance (noted as “SDI” on pay stubs) in the past 5 to 18 months; and not have taken the maximum six weeks of paid family leave in the past 12 months.

The paid leave, for this purpose, is identified as six weeks in duration. The time does not have to be taken all at once, but can be broken up. Applicants can easily go online and pursue more detailed eligibility criteria for CFRA leave to care for a seriously ill child, a parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, spouse, registered domestic partner, or to bond with a new child coming into the family.

Such information is also available to the employer, from a number of sources including the California Chamber of Commerce, or CalChamber, who say that requests for leave represent one of the most frequent requests made to the Human Resources Department of a qualifying employer.

At the same time, CalChamber says, the most common error made by employers and their HR departments is failure to grant legitimate requests for family and medical leave as required by federal (FMLA) and State (CFRA) laws.

To be fair, the relationship between CFRA and FMLA is not necessarily a simple one. In most situations the two Acts run concurrently and seamlessly, but not in all things. There are some instances where the Acts overlap, says CalChamber. In other circumstances, it is better to trigger a request through either FMLA or CFRA, but not both.

Sometimes, there are conflicts.

To that end it requires due diligence on the part of the Human Resources Department of a qualifying employer to remain conversant with all aspects of federal and state leave, in order to be in the best position possible to both guide the employee making a request for leave, and to ensure compliance in order to prevent a needless FMLA lawsuit.

As for the employee who comes up against roadblocks to a legitimate request for leave, the retention of a qualified attorney expert in the various nuances of CFLA and CFRA is prudent to ensure a legitimate request for leave is taken seriously, and duly honored.

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