Life is full of unexpected surprises—some wonderful, and others unfortunate. Often, those surprises come in the form of babies, injuries, illness, and loss. When the unexpected arises, we are forced to put everything else on hold, including our jobs.
Without certain protections in place, we are forced to quit jobs during unexpected times. Fortunately, there are laws in place that protect workers’ rights to unpaid leave when something unplanned does crop up. One such law is the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
California and Federal FMLA Rights
The FMLA entitles employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons. If you are an employee of a large employer in California, you are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain uncontrollable circumstances.
Who is Covered by the FMLA?
Covered family members under the California FMLA laws include an employee’s spouse, son, daughter, or parent as defined in the Act. Not every California employee is eligible for unpaid leave.
Employers subject to FMLA in California include the following:
- Private sector employers with 50 or more employees in 20 or more workweeks in the current or preceding calendar year;
- Public agency employers, regardless of the number of employees; or,
- Private or public elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees.
The law also requires employees to meet certain requirements to be covered under the Act. These requirements include the following criteria:
- Employed by a covered employer;
- Employed at least 12 months by the covered employer;
- Clocked at least 1,250 hours during the previous fiscal year; and
- Work at a location that employs 50 or more workers within a 75-mile radius
An experienced employment rights attorney can answer any additional questions you may have regarding employees and employers under the California FMLA laws.
To How Much Leave Are Employees Entitled To?
Employees in California are entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave within a one-year period. The purposes approved by the California FMLA include the following:
- Birth of a child or placement of a child in adoption;
- Care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition;
- The employee suffers from a severe medical condition making the employee unable to perform their job; and,
- A spouse, child, or parent is an active member of the military on covered active duty or covered active duty status.
An eligible employee may take up to 26 weeks of leave during a “single 12-month period” to care for a covered servicemember with a serious injury if the employee is the spouse, child, or parent of the employee.
Covered employees may also take intermittent leave or work on reduced schedules. In other words, an employee may take FMLA leave in California in blocks of time or reduce the hours they work each day or week for a reason permitted under the FMLA.
In certain situations, employees may choose to substitute accrued paid time off, such as sick pay or holiday pay, to cover some of the FMLA periods. Some covered employers may require employees to make these substitutions for leave under the Family Medical Leave Act in California.
Leave restarts every 12 months, which ensures that all workers get up to 12 weeks of leave each year if necessary.
Reasons for Leave
A person who is sick with the flu or who has a child who is sick with a cold is not eligible for leave. In those instances, a person would be required to use his or her sick days. Leave is available to any person who needs to take time off for any of the following reasons:
- To bond with a new child;
- To care for a family member with a serious health condition;
- To recuperate from a serious health condition;
- To care for a family member who sustained a serious injury during active duty in the military;
- To handle eligible emergencies arising out of a family member’s military service.
If any of these reasons apply to you, you may be eligible for leave under the FMLA in California.
Reinstatement and Other Rights
The primary purpose of California FMLA laws is to ensure that employees assume the same or equivalent position upon their return. If an employer refuses to grant a person continued employment, it is in violation of the FMLA and could be subject to a lawsuit.
Another right that employees have while on FMLA leave in California is the right to employer-sponsored health coverage. Workers may keep their current coverage as long as they make their payments.
The FMLA does stipulate that though the leave is unpaid, employees may be entitled (or even be required) to use their accumulated paid leave before going on official FMLA leave. That is entirely up to the employer, so it is important to understand your rights under both federal law and your employment contract before requesting leave.
Employees must comply with their employer’s requirements for requesting leave. They also must provide sufficient facts to their employer so as to determine whether the request falls under California FMLA laws.
Employees must provide 30 days advance notice of leave under the FMLA if the need is foreseeable. If the need is unforeseeable, they must provide notice reasonably under the circumstances.
The first request for FLMA leave in California need not be expressly asserted by the employee to fall under California FMLA laws. However, a request for additional leave for the same qualifying purpose must specifically reference the qualifying reason or the need for FMLA leave.
Employers must also comply with notice requirements regarding the FMLA to employees. Employers must provide a notice explaining employees’ rights and responsibilities under the FMLA. Willful failure to post notice may result in monetary penalties. Employers must also provide FMLA information to employees in the form of handbooks or other documentation.
If an employee requests FMLA or the employer knows that the requested leave may qualify under the FMLA, the employer must provide the employee notice concerning eligibility for FMLA leave and the employee’s rights and responsibilities under the FMLA in California.
Employers must also notify employees whether a leave request qualifies as FMLA leave and of the deduction of leave from the employee’s FMLA entitlement.
California Family and Medical Leave Laws
In addition to being covered by federal law, California employees are also protected by the state’s own leave of absence laws. Though state and federal laws are different and often contradict each other, employees are covered by whichever law offers the most protection. In most cases, that is California law.
One of California’s laws that reflects FMLA protections is the California Family Rights Act. This act requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide eligible workers with up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period.
Another law that extends California employees’ rights is the New Parent Leave Act. This act applies to employers with between 20 and 49 employees and mandates that smaller employers grant new parents up to 12 weeks of leave to bond with their new children.
Both of California’s laws carry the same qualifications as the FMLA:
- An individual must work for an employer for at least a year and clock 1,250 hours in that period; and
- The employer must have 50 employees (or 20 under the New Parent Leave Act) within a 75-mile radius.
The FMLA does not cover domestic partners and children of domestic partners whereas both of California’s laws do.
Some other laws that protect California employees include:
- California Pregnancy Disability Leave;
- California Small Necessities Law;
- California Domestic Violence Leave;
- California Paid Temporary Disability Insurance; and
- California Paid Family Leave.
If you have questions regarding your employment rights under the California family and medical leave laws, contact an experienced California employment rights attorney for guidance.
What to Do When Your Rights Have Been Violated
If your employer has denied you leave for a qualifying reason under either the FMLA or one of California’s laws, do not take no for an answer. You are entitled to leave, and any employer that denies leave for a qualifying condition may find themselves in huge legal trouble. Protect your rights and call the employment rights attorneys at Workplace Rights Law Group today.