Getting 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.