Understanding Family and Medical Leave Policies in California

by | Apr 8, 2024 | Discrimination, General Issues, Wage & Hour

Attorney holding a book titled FMLA Family and Medical Leave Act.


In the diverse and dynamic employment landscape of California, being well-versed in your entitlements and obligations regarding family and medical leave is not just beneficial—it’s essential. This knowledge not only empowers employees to advocate for themselves effectively but also equips employers with the tools to navigate the complexities of labor law, thereby cultivating a culture of respect and mutual understanding.

The objective of this blog is to break down the intricate web of leave policies that govern employment in California, encompassing sick leave and family leave. These policies are designed to protect employees during times of need— however, despite their significance, these rights and protections can often leave many unsure of their entitlements. Stay tuned for part 2 of this series, where we discuss disability accommodations and how to navigate common issues associated with leave policies.

Overview of California Laws

The Legal Landscape

In the legal landscape of California, the framework governing leave policies stands as a testament to the state’s progressive approach towards employee rights, setting a benchmark that often surpasses federal standards. At the core of California’s commitment to safeguarding workers’ well-being and rights are several key pieces of legislation that collectively ensure a comprehensive protection network for employees. Notably, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) serve as foundational pillars in this legal structure, providing robust rights that extend beyond those offered at the federal level.

The CFRA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave within a 12-month period for reasons such as the birth of a child, adoption, foster care placement, or the serious health condition of the employee or a family member. This aligns with, yet in certain respects, expands upon the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), offering protections that cater more specifically to the needs of California’s diverse workforce. Similarly, the FEHA plays a crucial role in ensuring accommodations for employees with disabilities, mandating that employers engage in a timely, good faith interactive process to determine effective accommodations. This act underscores the state’s proactive stance in promoting inclusivity and equal opportunities within the workplace.

By intertwining these statutes with additional regulations, such as those governing sick leave and pregnancy disability leave, California crafts a legal framework that not only protects employees during their most vulnerable moments but also champions a culture of respect and dignity in employment. Through these comprehensive leave policies, the state affirms its dedication to upholding the rights of workers, ensuring that they receive fair treatment and the necessary support to balance their professional and personal responsibilities.

    Seek Legal Action

    Legal counsel can help you understand your rights, available options, and advise you on gathering the necessary documents and witnesses to support your claim.

    Since 2001, the attorneys from Rothschild & Alwill, APC have dedicated themselves to workers needing legal assistance. Our experienced labor and employment lawyers can advise you on any potential legal claims. You deserve sound judgment, hard work, skilled representation, and to be treated with dignity during every step of the process.

    Email us or call or office in our Central Valley office in Bakersfield at (661-369-8510) or in Santa Barbara at (805-845-1190) to schedule an initial confidential consultation at no charge. Se habla Español.


    Sick Leave Policies in California


    2.1: Accrual and Use of Sick Leave

    Under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, California took a significant step towards promoting the health and well-being of its workforce. This legislation mandates that employees accrue sick leave at a minimum rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. This accrual begins on the first day of employment or on July 1, 2015, for those employed before that date, and employees are eligible to start using their accrued sick leave starting on the 90th day of employment. This framework ensures that employees have access to sick leave to care for themselves or a family member without fear of losing income or employment.

    The Act also includes provisions for the employer to also provide 5 days or 40 hours, whichever is greater, of paid sick leave “up-front” at the beginning of a 12-month period. No accrual or carry over is required. Accrued paid sick leave can carry over to the following year of employment and may be capped at 80 hours or 10 days.

    2.2: Employee Rights and Employer Obligations

    The Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act also establishes significant protections for employees, including strict non-retaliation clauses. Employers are prohibited from discriminating or retaliating against an employee for using accrued sick leave, attempting to exercise their right to use sick leave, filing a complaint with the Department of Labor Standards Enforcement, or alleging a violation of the Act. This ensures that employees can utilize their sick leave as intended without fear of adverse employment actions as a consequence.

    Employees have the right to use their accrued sick leave for the diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition or preventive care for themselves or a family member. Additionally, the Act extends the use of sick leave to situations involving victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, providing a broader scope of protection and support.

    Employers are obligated to adhere to these provisions and must display a poster in a conspicuous place at the workplace, detailing the rights afforded under the Act. They are also required to provide employees with written notice of their available sick leave balance on their pay stub or in a separate document issued the same day as their paycheck. This transparency and communication requirement helps ensure that employees are fully informed about their rights and the benefits available to them under the law.

    Family Leave Policies

    3.1: California Family Rights Act (CFRA)

    The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) is a pivotal statute in California’s family leave policies, affording eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave within a 12-month period for specific family and medical reasons. Eligibility criteria under CFRA require an employee to have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1,250 hours in the 12-month period before the leave begins. Additionally, the employer must have at least 5 employees to be covered under CFRA, which is a more inclusive threshold compared to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that applies to employers with 50 or more employees.

    Permissible uses of CFRA leave include the birth of a child for bonding; the placement of a child in the employee’s family for adoption or foster care; the serious health condition of the employee’s child, spouse, or parent; and the employee’s own serious health condition. Notably, CFRA diverges from the FMLA by also allowing leave for a serious health condition of a domestic partner or the child of a domestic partner. Additionally, as of January 1, 2021, the definition of “family members” under CFRA has been expanded to include grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings, which broadens the scope of eligible leave beyond what is available under the FMLA.

    3.2: New Parent Leave Act and Other Family Leave Provisions

    In addition to CFRA, California has enacted the New Parent Leave Act (NPLA) to cater specifically to the needs of new parents. The NPLA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement. This Act applies to employers who have at least 20 employees within 75 miles of the employee’s worksite, thereby extending leave rights to employees of smaller businesses that are not covered under CFRA.

    Furthermore, California law includes other family leave provisions that address needs not covered under CFRA. For instance, the California Paid Family Leave (PFL) program provides wage replacement benefits to employees who take time off to care for a seriously ill family member or to bond with a new child. While PFL does not provide job protection itself, it can be used in conjunction with CFRA or NPLA leave to receive pay during the leave period. Additionally, California’s pregnancy disability leave (PDL) law allows employees disabled by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition to take up to four months of job-protected leave, separate from any leave that might be available under CFRA.

    Through these various provisions, California ensures a comprehensive approach to family leave, offering protections and benefits that acknowledge and address the diverse needs of workers and their families.


    Understanding your rights when it comes to leave is vital to ensuring quality of your work/life balance. Do not navigate leave concerns alone. Schedule a consultation with the experienced employment attorneys at Rothschild & Alwill, APC. They can advise you on how to make the best of telecommuting arrangements. Email us or call our office in our Central Valley office in Bakersfield at (661-369-8510) or in Santa Barbara at (805-845-1190) to schedule an initial confidential consultation at no charge. Se habla Español.