California Legislature Passes Historic Bill Expanding Family and Medical Leave Rights

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) is a state law which supplements the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The CFRA was recently amended (SB-1383 Unlawful employment practice: California Family Rights Act.) to cover many more employees. The updated law was just approved by the 2019–2020 legislature and when it is signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, will greatly expand the rights of workers to take care of family members who are ill, when a child is born, or for other reasons. [Not sure if he signed it yet].

Almost every worker in California pays into a Paid Family Leave fund through paycheck taxes. Many workers could never take advantage of this fund because they work for smaller companies – often at lower salaries then workers in 50 plus size companies. The new law now applies to private employers with just 5 or more employees instead of the old law which applied only to employers with 50 or more employees.

The amended CFRA also now includes the right of qualified employees to care for grandparents and siblings – in addition to parents, spouses, and themselves.

The new law is thus a broad expansion of an employee right. Employees who are denied leave under the CFRA (as amended) have the right to file a legal claim against their employer for damages.

What were the main parts of the prior CFRA?

The prior law applied to government employers and private employers with 50 or more employees. The prior CFRA required that employers approve employee family leaver requests for employees who had at least, 1,250 hours of service with that employer during the prior 12 months – to take off for 12 weeks of leave (that is unpaid and unprotected) during any new 12 month period. The purpose of the leave is so the employee could bond with a newborn or to take care of a covered family member. Covered family members were generally – the work, a spouse or a parent.

Employers could refuse the request if:

  • The employer had less that 50 employees with 75 miles of the worksite where the employee worked
  • If the employee was in the top 10% of paid employees.
  • If both parents requested time off to take care of a newborn. The employer was only required to allow one of the parents the 12-week unpaid unprotected leave – though the parents could switch so one parent could take 6 weeks and then the other could take 6 weeks.

Health conditions covered under the Act (conditions that justify a request for leave) did not include the worker’s own pregnancy or related conditions – because that health condition is already covered by the California Pregnancy Disability Leave law.

Employers who were required to provide leave were also required to keep and pay for employee health coverage under a group health plan.

What additional leave requirements applied to the old CFRA law?

The prior and new CFRA law apply to employees who desire leave:

  • To bond with their own newborn – during the baby’s first 12 months of life
  • To bond with a newly adopted child or a foster child – within the first year of the placement
  • To care for an ill child, spouse, parent, or registered domestic partner

Generally, the approved leave could be spread out during the year – with the exception of bonding leave which has some restrictions your California employee rights lawyer can explain.

Workers who take lave have the general right to be reinstated to their prior job – or to a job that is comparable.

What are the new eligibility requirements?

The requirement that the employee had worked for the employer for at least 1,250 works during the prior 52 weeks still stands. 1,250 hours is about 31 plus 40-hour work weeks.

In addition to any FMLA leave and CFRA leave, employees may be entitled to additional leave through the:

  • The California Paid Family Leave program
  • Leave through any qualifying state or federal disability insurance program.

Which employers are obligated to comply with the new/expanded California Family Rights Act?

The new law includes more employers – any employer with 5 or more employees instead of 50. Estimates are that this will expand the unpaid leave benefit to millions for California workers.

How does the CFRA expand the definition of family members?

SB 1383 now provides that employees can use their unpaid leave for:

  • Themselves
  • Parents
  • Children
  • Spouses
  • Grandparents
  • Grandchildren
  • Siblings
  • Parents-in-law
  • Children of domestic partners
  • Children who are adults.

In addition to illness, the right to take leave will also apply to anyone in the broader class of “family” members – who are called to active duty in the US Armed Forces.

Understanding the removal of the exception employers could use to deny reinstatement to certain employees

The prior CFRA permitted employers the right to refuse leaver – or refuse reinstatement – to:

  • Salaried employees in the top 10 percent of the pay scale – who worked within 75 miles of the worksite where the employee worked.
  • Prevent serious economic harm to the employer
  • Other conditions were must such as notice requirements.

The newly amended CFRA removes this employer right.

What to know about the rights of both parents to use their CFRA rights – at the same time

SB – 1383 now permits both parents of a child, when both parents work for the same employer, to take joint parental leave on behalf of the child – at the same time.

What are the enforcement rights of the CFRA?

If an employee is denied his/her right to CFRA leave, the employee can either:

  • File a complaint with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH)
  • Hire a lawyer to file a claim for damages. Damages include:
    • Lost income
    • Any other economic damages including reasonable expenses
  • Emotional distress compensation
  • Job reinstatement
  • Legal fees and costs

At the California Law Offices of Stephen A. Danz and Associates, we explain that there are laws that help employees take care of family members – without having to decide between their family and their job. If you were denied any leave request, you may have a strong claim for damages. Our offices work with local independent counsel in many of the major counties across the state. Call us at 877-789-9707 or use our online contact form to schedule an appointment. Se habla espanol.