California Unpaid Family Leave

Qualifying Events
CFRA and Employers
Unpaid Family Leave Limitations
Taking CFRA Leave
When You Return to Work

Did you know that employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from their work under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) without losing their job? With similar provisions to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the CFRA allows employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave for the birth of a child, the adoption or placement of a minor foster child in their home, or a serious health condition of self, parent, child, or spouse. California family leave must be taken within one year of the qualifying event.

Qualifying Events

CFRA does not, however, cover pregnancy-related disability or childbirth-related recovery. However, recent mothers may take CFRA leave for purposes of parent-child bonding in addition to any leave taken under California’s pregnancy disability laws. For more information about taking time off when you are pregnant and working in California, see the article on California Pregnancy Disability Leave.

CFRA defines a “serious health condition” as an impairment, illness, injury or condition requiring either inpatient care or ongoing treatment by a health care provider. Children whose illnesses spark CFRA benefits must be either under the age of 18 or dependent adults. CFRA applies to registered domestic partners under the California domestic partnership law, though domestic partners are not covered by federal family and medical leave laws.

CFRA and Employers

California’s family and medical leave laws apply to employers who have 50 or more full- or part-time workers and who do business in California. While government employers are bound by CFRA regardless of size, small private entities with less than 50 employees are not. Eligible employees must satisfy 3 conditions:

  • they must have been at their job for more than 12 months;
  • they must have worked at least 1,250 hours during that period;
  • and they must be employed at a location with 50 or more employees or within a 75-mile radius of another worksite with 50 or more employees.

Covered employees may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a year, and CFRA requires employers to hold your position during that period. However, your company can hire a temporary substitute during your absence or force you to take a different job with similar pay and responsibilities upon your return. You need not take all of your CFRA leave at once; instead, you can take the time off in increments throughout the year, depending on your circumstances.

Your employer must continue to pay for health and dental plans and other benefits during your CFRA leave. However, you will be obligated to pay back those premiums if you choose not to return to work. Your employer must also continue to allow health benefits and the accrual of seniority, pension and retirement benefits in your absence. The program may overlap with your receipt of Paid Family Leave (PFL) or State Disability Insurance (SDI).

For more information about taking paid family leave In California, see California Paid Family Leave. For more information about claiming disability insurance in California, see California State Disability Insurance.

Unpaid Family Leave Limitations

There are several limitations for Unpaid Family Leave. For example, spouses who work for the same employer may only take 12 weeks of combined leave when a child’s birth, adoption or foster care is involved. However, they may take their leave concurrently. In addition, employers may force you to use any accrued paid vacation or other leave, except sick time (unless you decide to take CFRA leave due to your own illness). If your health care provider determines it is medically necessary, you may either work a reduced schedule or take your CFRA leave in increments. However, this applies only to leave taken because of your own serious health condition or that of a child, parent or spouse.

Taking CFRA Leave

You must inform your supervisor of your decision to take CFRA leave as soon as possible and tell them the amount of time you require and when it will occur. While you are not obliged to file a claim with a state agency to obtain CFRA, you must notify your company. Your employer may require up to 30 days notice and/or require a doctor’s note to verify a serious health condition. Employers must post a notice of your right to take leave under CFRA in a conspicuous place in the office and every employment manual must include information on CFRA.

When You Return to Work

Once your CFRA leave is over, you may return to the same or a similar position, although your employer may temporarily replace you during your absence. Your employer may refuse to allow you to return to your own job if a company facility was closed while you were away or your position was eliminated due to layoffs. In addition, salaried employees in the highest-paid bracket of a company (top 10 %) may be denied their position upon their return if it would cause serious economic injury to their employer. However, the employer must provide advance notice if this is going to be the case.

If you are wrongfully denied leave or reinstatement to your position, or if your employer subjects you to discrimination or harassment because of your request for leave, call a private California employment law attorney You can also get in touch with the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing and the Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor Employment Standards Administration.