The California Family Rights Act is a state law that protects an eligible employee’s rights to taking time off of work due to covered family or medical reasons. CFRA aligns with the Family and Medical Leave Act, a Federal law. This page details your legal rights under the CFRA, but is not a substitute for speaking with a wrongful termination lawyer.
Specifically, this page explains:
- What is CFRA and What Events Does It Cover?
- Definition of Serious Medical Condition
- Who is Eligible?
- Do You Still Get Paid During CFRA Leave?
- CFRA vs. FMLA
- What if You Are Denied Leave?
- Employer Responsibilities
- Can You Lose Your Job if You Take CFRA Leave?
- Talk to an Employment Lawyer
What is CFRA and What Events Does It Cover?
CFRA is administered by the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFHA). This act lays out a guideline to make sure that employers and employees are fairly treated when it comes to an employee’s absence from work. The California Family Rights Act protects the employees right to take a leave of absence for several reasons:
- The birth of a child
- A newly placed foster or adopted child
- To care for a family member who has a serious medical condition
- When an employee has a serious health condition and can’t work
Benefits of Being Covered by CFRA
Employees who are protected by the CFRA are entitled to the following benefits:
- Continued health and dental insurance, pension and retirement benefits
- Up to 12 weeks total of CFRA leave within a year
- Continued accrual of seniority
- Protection from being fired from your job due to CFRA covered leave
Definition of a Serious Medical Condition
A serious health condition is defined as an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition. Serious health conditions include:
- Any amount of time that an employee or their family member cannot work or receives treatment due to (or a result of) inpatient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility.
- Any period of incapacity that makes an employee unable to come to work, school, or other regular daily activities for more than 3 consecutive days. This involves the time needed to receive treatment by a health care provider or to be under their supervision.
- The continuance of treatment or supervision by a health care provider because of a chronic or long-term health condition that will become serious (result in incapacity of more than 3 consecutive days) if not treated, including prenatal care (excluding routine medical appointments).
- Restorative dental or plastic surgery is also included in serious health conditions, if it is related to an accident, injury, or for the removal of cancerous growths. Surgeries that are voluntary or cosmetic are not considered serious health conditions.
Who is Eligible for CFRA?
There are some requirements that need to be met by both employer and employee in order for California Family Rights Act leave can take place.
The employer must:
- Be doing business in California
- Employ 50 or more employees (both part-time and full-time) within a 75-mile radius of the worksite
The employee must:
- Have been employed for at least one year
- Have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours for the employer within a 12-month period before being eligible for leave
- Work at the employer’s location that has at least 50 employees in a 75-mile radius of the worksite
Do You Need to Provide Medical Proof?
The California Family Rights Act does not require that an employee furnish proof of their “serious medical condition”, however an employer is allowed to require it. It varies between employers, so it’s best that you fully understand what is required from your employer to have your leave covered by CFRA. If your employer does request medical certification, you have 15 days to provide the required information. The written medical certification must have the following:
- The date of when the illness started
- The estimated length of the condition
- Appropriate medical facts provided by the health care provider, along with a statement that the employee cannot perform functions of the job during this time
The employer must notify the employee of consequences of not providing medical certification if required. If the employee is asked to provide proof but does not, he/she may be denied CFRA leave or may even lose his/her job. It is important to have things cleared and confirmed by your employer before you go on California Family Rights Act leave.
Do You Still Get Paid During Your Leave?
A California Family Rights Act leave is unpaid. Employers are not required to pay employees who are on leave, but they are required to continue providing benefits. Health care coverage should still be provided up to a maximum of 12-weeks in a 12-month period, starting from the first day of the CFRA leave. In addition, the employer also has to continue other benefits during the employee’s CFRA leave. The employee is entitled to continued seniority and to participate in other employee benefit plans, including:
- Short-term and long-term disability
- Accident insurance
- Pension and retirement plans
- Supplemental unemployment benefits
CFRA vs. FMLA
Both the CFRA and FMLA are similar, as the state California Family Rights Act is modeled after the federal Family Medical Leave Act but with some differences. There are several major differences worth noting:
- Disability from pregnancy or childbirth is not covered under CFRA (it’s covered under California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law and FMLA)
- If both unmarried parents work for the same employer, only one parent can take time off to bond with a new child (FMLA allows both unmarried parents to take a 12-week leave)
- If medical proof is required for CFRA leave, the details of illness provided don’t have to be as much as what is required under FMLA
- CFRA leave allows employees to reduce their scheduled work time or have intermittent leave for bonding time with a new child (FMLA only allows the 12-week leave)
- Federal employees are not covered under CFRA (FMLA does cover both Federal and state employees)
If you want to learn more about FMLA in California, visit our FMLA California page.
What If You’re Denied the CFRA Leave?
An employer cannot lawfully deny an eligible employee CFRA leave. An eligible employee is one who:
- Is eligible under the California Family Rights Act leave requirements
- Provided the employer with sufficient notice of the leave, when foreseeable (at least 30 days in advance). Failure to provide notice, given this time frame, can result in denial of your request for leave
If an eligible employee is wrongfully denied CFRA leave, there are actions that can be taken. The employee can file a complaint with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, within one year of the wrongful denial or discrimination. He/she can also file a lawsuit against the employer. If you were wrongfully denied CFRA leave, you are entitled to recover:
- Wages you did not receive
- Reimbursement for any expenses as a result of the denial, including economic damages
- Interest you would have received from the lost wages
- Emotional distress damages
- Job reinstatement
- Attorney fees and other litigation-related costs
There are limitations to unpaid family leave though. If a couple is employed by the same employer, they may take a combined total of 12 weeks for: a child’s birth, adoption or foster care. The employer has the right to force an employee to use up any accrued paid vacation or other leave (except sick leave), before CFRA leave kicks in.
The employer is responsible for making sure that all of its employees know the rules of leave. This includes posting the requirements somewhere that everyone can see and read and providing employee handbooks or guidelines. Other employer requirements are:
- Respond to employee leave request within 10 calendar days, if possible.
- Notify employee whether the leave is paid or unpaid and either CFRA or both CFRA and FMLA
- If medical certification is required by the employer, the employee has 15 calendar days to get it
- Grant “reasonable request” of eligible employees
Can You Lose Your Job If You Take a Leave of Absence?
Your employer might hire a temporary employee to take over your position while you are on leave, but you are entitled to return to the same job or a similar one once you return to work (Rogers v. County of Los Angeles). You may not return to your original job if the company closes down or eliminates you position due to layoffs, while you were away. On the other hand, the top 10% of the highest paid, salaried employees may be denied return to their job if it can be proved that it would cause significant economic damages to the employer. In these cases, the employer is responsible for notifying the employee ahead of time, before their return.
Talk to an Employment Lawyer
FMLA/CFRA leave can become complicated if the employer is not clear about their requirements to their employees. If you feel that you’ve been wrongly denied CFRA leave or lost your job because of time off that was covered by CFRA, contact an employment lawyer immediately. The statute of limitations gives you 1 year from the date of wrongful action to file a claim. Talk to an employment lawyer as soon as possible to see what you can do.