family medical leave actLife 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).

Federal FMLA Rights

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. These circumstances include:

  • Having a baby;
  • Preparing for a loved one’s military service;
  • You or a loved one falling ill;
  • Becoming seriously injured;
  • Developing a serious health condition;
  • A loved one is injured during active duty.

Who is Covered by the FMLA?

Not every California employee is eligible for unpaid leave. The FMLA only applies to employers who have 50 or more employees.  The law also requires employees to meet certain requirements:

  • Employees much have worked for an employer for no less than a year in order to be eligible for leave;
  • Employees must have clocked no less than 1,250 hours during the previous fiscal year; and
  • Employees must work at a location that employs 50 or more workers within a 75-mile radius (for instance, some companies have multiple locations and employ only 20 to 30 people per location; if a company has three locations within a 75-mile radius and a combined total of 50 employees for all three locations, it would be required to grant leave when requested).

To How Much Leave Are Employees Entitled?

Employees in California are entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave within a one-year period. Leave restarts every 12 months, which ensures that all workers get up to 12 weeks of leave each year if necessary. Individuals who have military loved ones may take up to 26 weeks of leave per year.

Reasons for Leave

A person who is sick with the flu or who has a child who is sick with the 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.

Reinstatement and Other Rights

The primary purpose of FMLA leave 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 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.

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:

  1. An individual must work for an employer for at least a year and clock 1,250 hours in that period;
  2. 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.

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.


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