What types of family leave may employees in California have?

Employees in California may be eligible for paid or even unpaid leave in order to take care of certain family situations.

Finding an acceptable work-life balance can be a tricky thing for California residents even when everything is more or less stable and normal. Add something new or challenging to the mix like a family illness or the birth of a new baby and it gets even harder.

Helping employees manage these situations and still be able to retain their jobs is at the heart of family leave legislation. Just what types of benefits do California workers have access to? There are both federal and state laws in place that provide these types of benefits to employees.

Unpaid leave rights under federal law

The Family and Medical Leave Act, also called the FMLA, is a federal law that provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to qualifying employees. According to the United States Department of Labor, qualification requirements include working at least 1,250 hours for a given employer in the year leading up to the leave and having at least one year of employment with that employer.

The employer must also qualify for coverage. To do so, there must be at least 50 employees in a given geographical range. Private entities as well as federal, state and municipal employers are covered. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act also covers educational institutions.

Unpaid leave rights under state law

The unpaid leave rights under the California Family Rights Act, known as the CFRA, are similar to that under the federal law with a few exceptions. For starters, federal employees are covered under the federal law, not the state law. The state plan also does not have provisions for educational employers.

If spouses work for the same employer, the state law allows each spouse to take his or her maximum leave individually. The federal law, in contrast, requires that these spouses share their leave time.

Qualifying events

Generally speaking, providing care for another is the main reason for family leave. This may be for an ill family member or for a new foster, adoptive or biological child brought into a family.

Paid leave rights under state law

The State Employment Development Department explains that California also offers up to six weeks of paid family leave per year to employees. Sometimes called PFL, this benefit covers people eligible under the State Disability Insurance program and the benefits are provided via payroll deductions.

Governor Brown signed legislation expanding the coverage for this paid leave earlier in 2016. The changes will take effect in 2018 and provide up to 70 percent of a person's weekly wage for low-income workers and up to 60 percent of a weekly wage for someone making up to $108,000 per year.

Interaction of federal and state leave laws

How federal and state leave laws interact can be a complicated question. Generally, if a worker qualifies for both FMLA and CFRA unpaid leave, the federal and state leave times run concurrently. The U.S. Department of Labor explains that in this case, "the leave counts against the employee's entitlement under both laws"

However, if the unpaid family leave qualifies under the state CFRA, but not the FMLA, such as leave taken under state law to care for a domestic partner, the leave time taken under the CFRA would not count against the 12 weeks granted annually under the FMLA.

Employees of small employers

Since both FMLA and CFRA apply only to employers of at least 50 people, employees of smaller California employers are not guaranteed unpaid family leave with job protection when they need time off for family medical emergencies or to bond with new children. However, the state PFL program will allow six weeks paid leave for qualifying events, but, unfortunately, without the FMLA or CFRA, the PFL alone does not guarantee the employee's job will be protected.

Seeking help with leave rights

When an employee is unable to enjoy the rights granted by law for family leave, talking with a lawyer is recommended. This provides employees with the best chance to understand the laws and the options available.