Legal news and tips for employees, by Law Office of Eugene Lee

Leave Rights in California: Part 1

Leave Rights in CaliforniaGetting hurt or sick is no fun, but what’s worse is worrying that you’ll lose your job if you take time off to recover. That’s why employee medical leaves are protected under both the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the analogous California Family Rights Act (CFRA).

Am I eligible?

Unfortunately, FMLA/CFRA does not protect all workers, only those who have:

  • worked at least one year for their employer,
  • have worked at least 1,250 hours in the past year, and
  • whose employer has at least 50 employees working within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite.

According to U.S. Department of Labor June 2007 report, the eligibility requirements for FMLA/CFRA means that only 76.1 million workers out of 141.7 million total U.S. workers, or 53%, are eligible for FMLA protection (the other 47% have to rely on their employer’s leave policies).

How much medical leave is allowed under FMLA/CFRA?

Under FMLA/CFRA, employees are entitled to take a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave to care for a newborn, newly adopted child, seriously ill family member or for their own serious illness (under FMLA but not CFRA, this includes incapacity due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions). You may be entitled to an extension of leave past the 12 week maximum if you have a mental or physical disability that requires a leave extension as an accommodation of that disability (this assumes the employer is aware or has been informed of your disability and/or associated work restrictions). It is illegal for an employer to treat you differently or punish you for taking medical leave. You also have a right to be reinstated to your position upon return from your medical leave unless you are a “key employee”.

Is the leave paid or unpaid?

FMLA/CFRA (and PDLL) leaves are unpaid. According to the AFL-CIO, the lack of paid leave ”presents a significant obstacle for those who cannot afford to take FMLA leave”. This claim is backed up by a 2000 Westat Report which found that the most commonly noted reason for not taking leave was inability to afford it.

Of course, if you’re lucky, your employer will choose to pay you during such leaves, or apply your paid sick leave/vacation time to your medical leave.

What if I’m pregnant?

If you are incapacitated due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, you may qualify for 4 months of leave under the California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDLL). You can then take an additional 12 weeks of CFRA (but not FMLA) leave “for reason of the birth of her child, if the child has been born by this date” and assuming you have enough time left in your CFRA bank. 2 Cal. Code of Regs. § 7291.13(c).

Note, the above eligibility requirements for FMLA/CFRA do not apply to PDLL. To qualify for PDLL, you need only work for an employer who has 5 or more employees.


In Part 2, I will discuss whether FMLA/CFRA has been good for the workplace and what further improvements can and should be made, if any.

If you believe your employer has interfered with or retaliated against your medical leave rights, contact a lawyer right away as strict filing deadlines may apply.

  • Steven Sweat

    Employers should ALWAYS keep in mind as well that, just because the employee has exhausted the allowed leave under FMLA/CFRA/PDLL, issues may still arise as to disability discrimination. If the medical condition prompting the leave is a known disability, engagement in the interactive process and reasonable accommodation are required.

  • Luis

    Indeed a very informative and useful post shared. Its really interesting to read the benefits CA provides at length.

  • writeragtlawyers

    Very informative post. Hope part 2 is equally interesting to read!

  • Immigration Florida

    Well written..Great deal of great information .Thanks for sharing..

  • Branigan Robertson

    Good article, Eugene.

  • jukey

    To my understanding CA gives you all these wonderful benefits ( 4 months, CFRA) only if eligible if you have 5+employees as of 2012 (you are also entitled to a continuation of benefits/insurance under the new laws). Which brings me to my question. My employer is split between NYC and CA and we have a total of 8 employees (4 in NYC and 4 in LA), we are paid by an LP (Liimited Partnership) out of NY. I understand that CA law prevails in most cases. But would we be looked at as a company of 8 employees or only 4 in CA? I’m 7 months pregnant and would like to take advantage of this law, as my employer in NY is asking 6 weeks of me, which is unrealistic. Any advice?

  • human resources los angeles

    informative and very useful post. thanks for sharing this knowledgeable stuff with us.

  • jobs in my area

    I didn’t know that employees are entitled to take a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid medical leave to care for a newborn, newly adopted child, seriously ill family member or for their own serious illness.

  • HR Services California

    I was very pleased to find this site.I wanted to thank you for this great read!! I definitely enjoying every little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to check out new stuff you post.

  • Adam

    Well written article.Your site is too good.Its full with information. I hadn’t thought of some of these Interesting piece. It can be difficult to find good blogs nowadays. 

  • labor law posters

    Good. I think company should be good to their employees, they should use good labor law posters.

  • gbnoteversions

    Interesting that you can stack, so to speak, your federal and state benefits in California.

  • Rodney Mesriani

    This was a very comprehensive article, good job. I’d just like to add that while both the FMLA and CFRA leave benefits are indeed unpaid, some California employees, particularly pregnant women may avail of Paid Family Leave (PFL) benefits if they’re also covered by the State Disability Insurance aside from the job-protected benefits of the FMLA or the CFRA.

  • hawaii vacation packages

    Really helpful info.You have cleared all my queries and doubt and I am looking forward to read the 2nd part of this topic..

  • Georgia Lemon Law

    Good Info

  • Patrick Hake

    Cheers. This helped out a friend of mine a lot. You have a very informative website here, you know, stuff you would have to really dig to find. And all presented in such an easy to understand way!