Family, Medical and Parental Leaves

Requests for leaves of absence rank among the most frequently encountered challenges faced by the HR administrator. Employers are often faced with administering requests for pregnancy leave, baby bonding leave, leave to care for a sick family member, or leave for the employee’s own illness. State and federal leave laws, such as the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) - applicable to employers with 50 or more employees - contain overlapping and sometimes conflicting employee rights and employer obligations regarding California family leave.​

Common Mistake

  • Failing to grant family, medical and parental leaves as required by federal and state law.

FMLA and CFRA Leaves

The FMLA and CFRA both require covered employers to provide time off for personal illness, to attend to the illness of a family member and in connection with the birth or adoption of a child. Though this sounds simple, FMLA leave act and CFRA issues are among the most litigated of all employment law cases and can result in large liabilities. Federal and California family and medical leave laws provide eligible employees with the equivalent of up to 12 weeks per year for:

  • Bonding with a newborn, adopted child, or child placed for foster care
  • Caring for a family member with a serious health condition
  • The employee's own serious health condition
  • A qualifying exigency relating to a close family member's military service (FMLA only)

According to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees can get up to 26 weeks per 12-month period to care for an ill or injured service member (FMLA only).

Family and medical leave laws also prohibit retaliation or discrimination against an employee for exercising rights under FMLA or CFRA or for giving information or testimony about alleged violations of California or federal family and medical leave laws.

Covered Employers Under FMLA and CFRA

FMLA and CFRA laws cover private employers with 50 or more employees on the payroll during each of any 20 or more calendar weeks in the current calendar year or the preceding calendar year and all public employers, regardless of the number of employees. This includes employees on the payroll who received no compensation, part-time employees, commissioned employees and employees on leave who are expected to return to active employment. Employees on layoff do not count.

Employee Eligibility for FMLA/CFRA Leave

According to the CFRA, there are specific criteria for an employee to be eligible for California family and medical leave. An employee must have worked for a covered employer for at least 12 months and must have worked for 1,250 hours in the 12 months before the start of the leave. The employee must also work at a worksite where 50 or more employees are employed by the employer within 75 miles of that worksite. The same eligibility requirements also apply to the federal FMLA.

Pregnancy Disability Leave

Employers with five or more employees are covered by California’s pregnancy disability leave (PDL) law. An employee who is disabled by pregnancy is eligible for up to four months of PDL. The actual length of the leave will be determined by the employee’s health care provider and will depend on the length of time that the employee is actually disabled by the pregnancy.

Employers with more than 50 employees and with employees eligible for state or federal family and medical leave, will also need to follow the steps outlined in Family, Medical and Parental Leave and Leave Interactions when administering leaves related to pregnancy.

Baby Bonding Leave

If an employer is covered by federal and state family and medical leave laws (FMLA/CFRA) or the California New Parent Leave Act (Parental Leave), an employee can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to bond with a newborn or a child placed with the employee for adoption or foster care - assuming the employee meets eligibility requirements. Leave must be taken within one year of the child’s birth, adoption or foster-care placement.

Family and medical leave laws (FMLA/CFRA) cover employers of 50 or more employees and all public agencies.

California’s New Parent Leave Act covers employers of 20 or more employees and all public agencies.

Baby bonding leave is in addition to any time off under California’s pregnancy disability leave law.

Medical Certification

You may require medical certification for an employee taking family/medical leave for his/her own serious illness or to care for a family member (baby-bonding time does not count). Keep in mind that medical privacy laws limit the type of information you may require on such certification.

  • Common Mistake - Not understanding the difference between a "serious health condition" and a "common ailment."
  • "Serious Health Condition" Defined - A "serious health condition" is an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves at least one of several criteria.

You can also require a medical certification for pregnancy disability leave.

Notice Requirements for Employer and Employee

Both California and federal family and medical leave laws and California pregnancy disability leave laws require employers to post specific notices for employees explaining their family leave rights.

Pay and Benefits

Family and medical leave, parental leave and pregnancy disability leave are generally unpaid, though employees have certain rights to substitute accrued paid sick or vacation leave for the otherwise unpaid time. Employees who are enrolled in your health insurance benefits are entitled to continue receiving this benefit during their family medical leave.

Right to Reinstatement After Leave

When you grant an employee's family and medical, parental or pregnancy disability leave request you must guarantee to reinstate the employee to the same or a comparable position. Only under very limited circumstances can you refuse to honor the reinstatement guarantee.

"Comparable Po​sition"

Employment in a "comparable position" means employment in a position virtually identical to the employee's original position in terms of pay, benefits and working conditions, including privileges, fringe benefits and status. It must involve the same or substantially similar duties and responsibilities, which must entail substantially equivalent skill, effort, responsibility and authority. It must be performed at the same or a geographically close worksite from where the employee previously was employed. It ordinarily means the same shift or the same or an equivalent work schedule.

Refusing Reinstatement Entirely

Though an employee has the right to return to the position held before taking a family/medical leave, this right is not absolute.

Interaction Between Federal and California Laws

An employee can take family and medical leave under several different circumstances. FMLA and CFRA contain similar provisions and generally run concurrently. However, there are some situations where the leave will be FMLA only or CFRA only. You will need to familiarize yourself with the various circumstances for which an employee can take leave and how those leaves interact.

Try the Leave Interaction Wizard

The Leave Interaction Wizard helps you determine if an employee is eligible for leave under Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) or a combination of these leaves.

Penalties For Leave Violations

Violating family, medical, parental and pregnancy leave laws subjects you to a civil lawsuit or administrative proceeding, and supervisors may be personally liable.

Company Family and Medical Leave Policy

If you are a covered employer, you must have a family and medical leave policy, which should include certain specifications.

Related Resources

​​Leave Interaction Wiza​​rd »

The goal of the Leave Interaction Wizard is to help you determine if an employee is eligible for leave under Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) or a combination of these leaves.

Use this quiz to help you understand some of the specifics of how an employee's time off may relate to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).​

How To: Manage Family and Medical Leave »
In some circumstances, an employee may request leave for family and medical reasons. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) entitle eligible employees to unpaid, job protected leave under defined circumstances. If you employ 50 or more employees, you are covered by FMLA and CFRA. ​​​​​

FMLA and CFRA: Family and Medical Leave Forms & Checklists

Basic Poster and Notice Requirements under the Family Medical and Pregnancy Leave Laws - English »  Spanish »​​
Review this chart to determine your responsibilities under family/medical and pregnancy leave laws.

Benefits During Leaves of Absence »
This chart describes leaves of absence, whether they are legally required, if state mandated wage replacement is available, whether health benefits must be continued during the leave, whether use of sick, vacation or PTO can be required and whether sick, vacation or PTO accrue during the leave.​​​​​​

California Family Rights Act Brochure »
This brochure outlines an employee's right for leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). You may choose to give this brochure to each employee eligible for CFRA and/or who requests leave that qualifies as CFRA, but there is no requirement that you do so.​​

PDL FMLA CFRA Documentation Checklist - For Employer Use Only »
Use this checklist to assist you in complying with regulations regarding family medical leave, CFRA leave and pregnancy disability leave.​​​​​​​​

Request for Leave of Absence - FMLA CFRA PDL - English »  Spanish »
Provide this form if you're an employer covered by the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and either an employee has requested a leave of absence or you recognize the need.