CFRA: California version of the FMLA

All public sector workers and certain private sector workers are allowed unpaid, job-protected leave for serious medical or family issues under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Private sector workers are covered by the FMLA if they are working at a company with at least 50 employees on the payroll who all live within 75 miles. To qualify, these workers must also have worked for their qualified employer for at least 12 months and put in at least 1,250 hours.

In addition to covering leave for a worker’s own medical condition or that of their immediate family, the FMLA also covers leave taken to deal with situations arising from a family member’s deployment to active duty. The federal law also provides unpaid leave for those tending to a family member injured in military combat.

Workers taking leave under the FMLA can do so without fear of losing their job, and also fear of losing any benefits, accumulated seniority or other accrued perks. A company must also extend any health benefits to a worker on FMLA leave as if they were still employed by the company.

Once a worker comes back from FMLA leave, they must be reinstated to their previous job or a similar position with equal pay and terms of employment. If the employee’s position has been downsized or moved to a distant location – the FMLA-covered company must find a suitable replacement job.

Essentially, workers covered under FMLA can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for a legitimate medical or family situation without having to worry about being penalized for doing so.

Protections of the CFRA

Along with the protections provided by the FMLA, California is one of a few states that offers additional protections to workers. The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) addresses organizations who operate in California and have 50 or more people on the payroll.

Like FMLA, those entitled must have greater than 12 months with the company under their belts and have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours for that company in the 12-month period before the CFRA leave period starts.

Also like FMLA, a CFRA-qualified worker could take an unpaid leave to be with an adopted child, foster child recently placed into their family or their own newborn child. Leave taken to bond with a child must be finished within 1 year of the birth or placement event.

A qualified worker may take unpaid CFRA/FMLA leave to tend to an immediate family member, considered a child, parent or spouse, with a significant health issue. CFRA/FMLA leave can also be taken for the worker's own severe medical condition.

Full-time workers may take as many as 12 workweeks of CFRA/FMLA inside a rolling 12-month period. Part-time workers could take CFRA leave proportional to the amount of hours they work. Like FMLA, CFRA leave doesn't have to be used in one continuous block of time, so long as it is determined by a medical doctor that it is medically necessary.

Also like the FMLA, a company may mandate a 30-day upfront notice of the necessity for a CFRA-qualifying leave. If the need for CFRA leave pops up suddenly, notice should be given the instant it is possible. Notification can be either written or verbal and should describe timing and the predicted period of time of the leave. A company must reply to a leave inquiry within 10 calendar days, according to the CFRA.

The company may also mandate written correspondence from the medical doctor treating the worker or their immediate family member with a severe health condition that describes the grounds for the leave and the likely period of time leave should last.

Organizations are not mandated to pay workers during a CFRA leave. Additionally, a company may mandate a worker to use accumulated vacation or other accumulated paid time off. If the CFRA leave is for the worker's own substantial health condition, then the use of sick time can be mandated.

Like FMLA, if the company supplies health benefits under a group insurance plan, the company must keep making these benefits accessible during the CFRA leave. The worker is also eligible for accrual of seniority and engagement in other benefit plans.

After CFRA leave, workers are guaranteed a comeback to the same or comparable position and can ask for the guarantee in writing. As with FMLA leave, a worker is not eligible for reinstatement if they would have been otherwise relieved of their job.

Workers on CFRA leave of absence could also be entitled to six weeks of paid leave under Family Temporary. Disability Insurance (FTDI), a program administered by the California Employment Development Department.

Major FMLA-CFRA Differences and Pregnancy Disability

Unlike the FMLA, the CFRA does not give a worker in California protection for pregnancy-related disability. Under FMLA, a debilitating condition associated with pregnancy is considered a substantial medical condition and if a woman is having a challenging pregnancy and needs to take leave before the birth of the child, leave will be taken from her 12-week leave entitlement under FMLA.

However, the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (CA-FEHA) does offer protection for pregnancy-related disabilities. It allows workers who are impaired by pregnancy, childbirth or a related condition to have as many as four months of job-protected paid Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL).Along with the family care and medical leave demands of the CFRA, organizations of five or more persons have further obligations pertaining to PDL. It should be noted that PDL does not cover time off to bond with a child, which is protected under the FMLA.

At the end of the leave associated with a pregnancy disability, or at the end of 4 months of PDL, whichever happens first, the worker could take a new-child bonding leave under CFRA for as many as 12 workweeks, assuming she hasn't used the CFRA leave in the last 12-month period.

Incidentally, FMLA leave runs at the same time as the leave supplied by the CFRA and CFRA leave can be utilized by a worker only after the birth of a child.

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