The California Family and Medical Leave Act is a modified version of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). The California equivalent of this act is officially known as the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”). For the purposes of this article, however, it will be referred to as the California Family Rights Act, the California FMLA, the FMLA CA, and various other similar abbreviations.

The main reason that both the federal and California FMLAs were initially passed as well as why they are still relevant today is to ensure that employees receive certain legal rights and protections if they need to take time off work to deal with a family emergency or some other type of medical issue. While the provisions of these two acts cover many of the same topics, there are fundamental differences between them that will be discussed in further detail below.

Similar to the federal FMLA, however, the California FMLA requires employers who employ fifty or more workers to permit them to take unpaid leave for up to twelve-weeks for specific family-related and/or medical reasons, such as:

  • For the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a worker’s child;
  • If a worker develops a serious health condition and is no longer able to work; or
  • To take care of a worker’s immediate family member who has a serious health or medical condition (e.g., a parent, a child, a spouse, etc.).

It should be noted that the California FMLA will only protect workers who are employed by covered employers. In addition, there are some requirements that a worker must meet as well. This includes the fact that they must be able to prove that they have worked for their employer for at least 1,250 hours in the prior 12-month period and that they must have been employed for 12 months by the time their leave is to take effect.

To learn more about your rights and protections as a California worker under the CA FMLA, you should consult with a California employment law attorney who practices in your county. A California employment lawyer will be able to provide in-depth legal advice on your family and medical leave issues or disputes.

What Does the FMLA Cover in California?

As previously mentioned, the CA FMLA functions as the state’s modified version of the federal FMLA and thus only provides coverage for California-based employees and their employers. Although the California FMLA covers many of the same rights as the federal FMLA, there are some major differences between the two labor laws.

Generally speaking, the federal FMLA affords more rights to those that it protects than the FMLA CA. However, California has passed many more employee-friendly laws that make up for any shortcomings in the California state version of the FMLA.

For instance, unlike the federal FMLA, the California Family Rights Act does not consider pregnancy to be a “serious health condition.” Instead, California-based employees who are pregnant will need to review the provisions of California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave (“PDL”) law to determine their rights.

Another example is that the federal FMLA permits a worker who is considered the spouse, parent, child, or next of kin of a military service member to take a leave of absence from work. This can be for up to twenty-six weeks in a twelve-month period to care for the military service member if they become ill or injured while on active duty.

In contrast, the California FMLA does not mention next of kin in its text. Additionally, the CA FMLA only permits a worker to take up to twelve weeks off of work in a twelve-month period, as opposed to the twenty-six weeks of absence allowed by the federal FMLA.

What are Some Common FMLA Legal Disputes?

Some common legal disputes that may arise in connection with the federal FMLA or the Family Medical Leave Act California include the following:

  • If an employer retaliates, terminates, or takes some other type of disciplinary action against a worker who has put in a valid requested for time off in compliance with the standard requirements of the federal and/or CA FMLA guidelines;
  • When an employer fails to inform its employees about their legal rights under CA FMLA or FMLA laws;
  • If an employer refuses to give a worker their former job back or forces them to take a new position once they return to the workplace after an CA FMLA-approved absence;
  • When an employer terminates, retaliates, or takes some other kind of disciplinary action against a worker for filing a complaint or private lawsuit based on their rights under the FMLA;
  • If an employer discloses confidential information regarding a worker’s family or medical condition to others in the workplace;
  • When an employer denies a worker’s properly submitted FMLA-related request for time-off;
  • If an employer forces an employee to come back to work before their period of leave is scheduled to be over; and/or
  • When an employer eliminates a worker’s benefits or other perks as soon as their leave period has ended.

The above descriptions do not constitute the full range of legal disputes that a worker can bring against their employer under the Family Medical Leave Act California. Therefore, a worker may want to contact a California employment attorney for further help with a matter regarding medical leave California.

How are California FMLA Disputes Resolved?

The California FMLA is administered by the California Department of Fair Employment Housing (“DFEH”). As such, a worker who believes their FMLA California rights have been violated must file a complaint with the DFEH.

Once all of the proper paperwork has been submitted, the DFEH will open an investigation into the worker’s complaint. If the DFEH finds that a worker’s complaint is valid, they will attempt to get the worker and employer to settle the dispute.

If the worker and employer fail to cooperate or cannot reach a suitable arrangement, the DFEH can file a lawsuit on the worker’s behalf in a California civil court. A judge will then conduct a hearing to determine the results of the case. If the judge finds for the worker, they may issue a monetary damages award that the employer will be ordered to pay.

Alternatively, a worker may also file a private lawsuit against their employer in civil court. If a worker chooses this option, then it may be in their best interest to hire a California employment lawyer to represent them in court.

Once the complaint in a private lawsuit is filed in civil court, the worker must serve copies of the Summons and Complaint on their employer. The worker will also need to file a Proof of Service Certificate with the court after service to their employer is complete.

An employer will then need to respond to the complaint and send copies of it to the worker. The remainder of the process will then follow the course of a standard trial. For instance, the worker will need to schedule a pre-trial conference and make requests for discovery. An employer will likely try to settle the case with a worker before it gets to trial. When this happens, a worker will have a choice to accept or reject the employer’s settlement offer.

Should I Hire a California Lawyer?

As discussed above, there are certain instances when the federal FMLA may conflict with the California Family and Medical Leave Act. Given the complex nature of matters concerning employment law issues, combined with the possibility of conflicting labor laws, you may want to consider hiring a California employment law attorney for further legal guidance if you are part of a dispute that involves medical or family leave in California.

A California employment law attorney who has experience with handling cases that involve the FMLA, the California Family and Medical Leave Act, and other employment law regulations will be able to assist you in finding a solution that best suits your interests.

Your attorney will also be able to address the differences between the statutes for the federal and state FMLA. They can also advise you on any extended legal rights that you may receive under the California state law and/or the company policies of your employer.

Finally, your attorney can negotiate terms for a settlement arrangement on your behalf with your employer. In addition, if you and your employer fail to cooperate with one another or cannot reach a settlement agreement on the matter that satisfies both parties, then your attorney can provide legal representation in civil court if it should become necessary.