Employer Knowledge is Key to Avoiding FMLA Lawsuits


Sacramento, CA: It’s hard to fathom that the number of lawsuits over denied family and medical leave were found to be increasing last year, even though statutes such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) have been around for years.

However, that was the finding from a study conducted by the Center for Worklife Law at the University of California’s Hastings Law School in 2016.

Paid Family Leave (PFL) in California is another statue that augments existing leave provisions both federally (FMLA) and at the State level (CFRA). To that end, paid family leave has been around for no fewer than 14 years and known in the Golden State even longer, ever since the California State legislature first created paid family leave and gave administrative authority to the California Employment Development Department.

Thus, any employer denying a legitimate claim for paid family leave in California who pleads ignorance to the statutes, doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on.

What’s more, possessing intimate knowledge of both FMLA and CFRA does not necessarily dictate, or drive PFL. For example, FMLA and CFRA generally require employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible workers unpaid time off to attend their own medical needs, or those of certain family members.

In contrast, the paid family leave program applies to all California employers, regardless of the size of their workforce.

Employers need to do their homework

Numerous industry watchers have opined that when a number of laws and statutes co-exist with one another – as is the case with FMLA, CFRA, the California Pregnancy Disability Leave Act (CPDL), and PFL – keeping track of all the various associations and overlaps takes some diligence. That said, the weight is on the employer to ensure human resource departments are up to speed on all the various nuances, lest the employer inadvertently cause a hardship to the employee that could result in a FMLA lawsuit.

For example, FMLA and CFRA guarantee reinstatement of their job to employees except when limited exceptions apply. Unlike the FMLA and CFRA however, there is no automatic reinstatement provision in the language governing paid family leave in California. The PFL exists as a funding program only: job protection, on the other hand, extends to CFRA or FMLA. Thus, an employer contemplating a reinstatement request and assuming he, or she does not owe the returning employee their job back, could be misinformed.

That’s because the PFL program does not eliminate the reinstatement requirements mandated by the FMLA, CFRA or CPDL. Even though the PFL, through which the employee has received paid leave benefits, does not guarantee job reinstatement – other laws under which the employee may be protected, does. In this way a misinformed employer could open themselves up for an FMLA lawsuit, or similar litigation under CFRA.

There are resources available

The State of California Employment Development Department maintains a website that is accessible to both employers and employees for guidance in either making claims, or in the case of the employer, facilitating claims.

Meanwhile, a blog appearing last year in the Huffington Post (06/14/16) raised the specter of the potential for discrimination on the part of the employer against an employee for simply being pregnant, wishing to take time to bond with an infant, or to care for an elderly family member. For those employees who allege discrimination or have been made to suffer by way of an unfair denial of legitimate family leave – paid or otherwise – an FMLA lawsuit or equivalent is often an appropriate response. And according to the Center for Worklife Law at the Hastings Law School, University of California, the aggregate success rate in FMLA litigation is higher than 50 percent.

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