The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (“FMLA”) is a federal labor law that requires covered employers to permit their employees to take unpaid leave for certain family and/or medical situations without the fear of losing or being terminated from their job. 

In other words, the FMLA affords several rights and protections to employees who need to take time off to handle a family or medical issue. Specifically, the Act enables employees in such situations to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave. It also provides them job security and allows them to keep their healthcare benefits as if they were still actively working. 

According to the provisions of the FMLA, an employee who requests to take leave cannot be reprimanded or terminated by their employer during the twelve-week period. An employer also cannot make discriminatory remarks or behave in a discriminatory manner towards an employee who requests, is granted, or is out on leave under the FMLA. 

Additionally, employers who are covered by the Act must comply with its provisions, including that the covered employer must offer mandatory unpaid leave to workers who are eligible and who request time off for one or more of the following reasons:

  • If they need time off for the birth or care of a newborn child;
  • If they have to take care of an immediate family member (e.g., spouse, child, parent, etc.) who has a serious health problem or emergency medical condition;
  • If the employee has adopted or taken a child in for foster care and they need time off, so that the child can adjust to their new surroundings; 
  • If it is for military-related purposes, such as a family member’s deployment or due to an illness or injury that resulted from serving in the military; and/or 
  • If the employee needs to take medical leave for their own purposes (e.g., if the employee is unable to work due to a serious medical or health condition).

Basically, so long as both you and your employer are covered by the provisions set out under the Act, then you will be granted the legal right to take an unpaid leave of absence from work. This can be done in order to provide the level of care that is necessary to handle a family or medical issue without the worry or threat of losing your job and/or healthcare benefits. 

Are All Employers Required to Provide Rights Under the“FMLA?

It is important to keep in mind that the FMLA does not apply to all employers. It only applies to employers who meet the requirements listed under one of the following categories:

  • The employer is a business in the private sector that maintains fifty or more employees for twenty-plus work weeks in the current or prior calendar year;
  • The employer is considered a public agency, which includes a federal, state, or local government agency, irrespective of the number of workers that are employed by the agency; or
  • The employer is a private or public elementary or secondary school, regardless of the number of employees that work at the school. 

Additionally, employers who are covered by the FMLA are required to provide notice to covered employees regarding their rights and responsibilities under the Act. Covered employers must also include details about FMLA leave in employee handbooks, must inform employees who take leave about their rights and responsibilities under the FMLA, and must discuss with the employee whether their time off will be designated as FMLA leave.

Which Employees are Eligible Under the Family and Medical Leave Act?

Similar to the requirements for employers under the Act, the FMLA also does not apply to all employees. Aside from having to work for an employer who is covered by the FMLA (e.g., for one of the reasons listed in the above section), an employee must satisfy some other requirements to be eligible to take family and/or medical leave under the Act, such as:

  • The employee must have worked for a covered employer for at least twelve months before they can request unpaid leave;
  • The employee must have worked a minimum of at least 1,250 hours over the span of twelve months; and
  • The employee must work for a business that has 50 or more employees, working within 75 miles of the location where the employee works.

Employees who are covered under the FMLA can typically take up to twelve weeks off per year for any of the reasons that were previously discussed.

In some cases, an employee may be granted time off for twenty-six weeks during the twelve-month period if they need to care for a service member who has been seriously injured or has contracted an illness and is covered under the Act. However, the service member must be an immediate family member of the employee, such as a spouse, child, parent, or next of kin. 

Additionally, an employee does not need to use up the amount of leave time they are given in one block. For example, they may alternate the weeks or months that they return to work.

How is the FMLA Treated Under California Laws? 

As a federal law, the FMLA will preempt similar state laws if the two conflict with one another. The state of California has enacted a version of the FMLA, which is known as the “California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”)”. The CFRA affords covered employees many of the same rights that are provided under the provisions of the FMLA. 

However, while the CFRA is primarily based on the FMLA, there are four major differences between the two laws. These differences include:

  • First, pregnancy is listed as a serious health condition under the FMLA. In contrast, the CFRA does mention pregnancy as a serious health condition. California employees who are pregnant must review the terms of California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave regulations instead. 
  • Second, the FMLA does not consider a registered domestic partner to be the equivalent of a spouse. On the other hand, the CFRA does recognize registered domestic partners as if they are a spouse. As such, they will be entitled to take leave under the CFRA. 
  • Third, an employee who is the child, spouse, parent, or next of kin of a service member will be allowed to take off twenty-six weeks in a twelve-month period to care for a service member who was injured or became ill while on active duty. In contrast, the CFRA does not cover next of kin and also only allows up to twelve weeks off in a year.
  • Finally, the last difference between the two laws is that the “qualifying exigency” requirement concerning military duty will only apply to those who have a spouse, child, or parent who is on active military duty or who has been called to serve under the FMLA. This requirement is not mentioned nor covered under the CFRA. Thus, an employee may need to refer to California state laws or company policies.

Do I Need a California Attorney if I’m Facing Issues Regarding the Family and Medical Leave Act?

If you are experiencing issues regarding the FMLA and conflicting California state laws, then it may be in your best interest to consult a California employment law attorney for further legal advice. A California employment law attorney who has experience in handling FMLA-related issues will be able to answer any questions you may have about the Act or the CFRA. 

Your lawyer will also be able to explain the differences between the FMLA, the state of California’s various employment laws, and your employer’s company policies. In addition, your lawyer can provide representation in court if necessary, or can negotiate for more favorable terms when reaching a settlement agreement pertaining to an issue involving these Acts.