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Telling Your Employer You’re Sick with a Serious Medical Condition or Pregnant: What Happens Next


It may be happy news that you’re pregnant or scary news that you (or a loved one) are battling a serious medical condition – either way, it’s a situation that is going to affect your work. Employees in either situation may struggle with what to do next – how do you tell your employer?

First – the positive. In many situations, employees who are pregnant, have a serious medical condition, or find themselves as the caretaker for a loved one with a serious medical condition may have protections for their job under both state and federal laws. For employees who are eligible under these laws and working for a covered employer, the laws may require that the employer provide you information regarding your rights once they know (or should know) about your medical condition (or your need to care for a family member with a medical condition).

If you work for an employer who employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of your worksite, you’ve worked for the employer for 1,250 and at least one year, you have protections under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Additionally, under CFRA, eligible employees working for employers with 20 or more employees within a 75-mile radius are entitled to up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to bond with a new child within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster placement. However, for other situations, such as care of a family member with a serious health condition or your own serious health condition, the employer must still have 50 employees.

While the law does not require paid leave (leave is unpaid), employee may be eligible for State Disability Insurance or Paid Family Leave.

Paid Family Leave, on the other hand, may apply to employers with as little as 5 employees and provide leave for up to four (4) months for pregnancy.

Under CFRA, eligible employees are provided a total of twelve (12) weeks of protected leave during a 12-month period for qualifying medical reasons, including medical reasons for certain individuals in their care. Qualifying medical events are as follows:

  • When the employee is unable to work because a serious health condition.
  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition. Spouse includes registered, domestic partners.
  • The birth of a child or adoption or foster care placement of a child.

Under the law, a serious health condition is defined as an “illness, injury, impairment, or physical, or mental condition that causes or requires:

  • Any period of incapacity requiring absence from work, school, or other regular daily activities, of more than 3 consecutive calendar days
  • Any period of incapacity or treatment in connection with or after inpatient care
  • Ongoing treatment by or under the supervision of a health care provider for a chronic or long-term health condition that is incurable
  • Restorative dental or plastic surgery after an accident or injury

During leave, employees are entitled to keep their same employer-paid health benefits they had while they were working. Like FMLA, the leave provided is unpaid, but employees may be eligible for State Disability Insurance (SDI) or Paid Family Leave (PFL). Leave taken under CFRA runs concurrently with FMLA, except when FMLA is taken for a disability due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions because CFRA excludes leave for these circumstances. Instead, that leave is covered under PDL. However, an employee who exhausts FMLA and PDL leave for pregnancy related disability (which may run concurrently) still may have leave under CFRA to bond with a newborn child – meaning an employee could have a combined total of seven (7) months of leave, if eligible under each pregnancy-related law.

Under California law, pregnancy is not covered a serious health condition as defined in CFRA. Instead, pregnant employees working for an employer with five (5) ore more employees are protected under a different California law: the Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL). PDL provides up to four (4) months or sixteen (16) weeks of leave from their job if the employee is disabled due to pregnancy. The leave is unpaid, but employees may be eligible SDI.  for Also, unlike CFRA or FMLA, there is no eligibility period for employees. However, for employees who are eligible under CFRA, the law then provides an additional twelve (12) week “baby bonding” leave.

California Paid Family Leave (PFL) provides up to 6 weeks of partial pay (60% to 70% of wages earned 5-18 months prior to the claim start- depending on income – with a maximum wage replacement of $1,216.00 per week) to employees who take time off from their job to bond with a new child entering the family through birth, adoption, or foster care placement, or to care for a seriously ill family member (child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or registered domestic partner). To receive benefits, employees must: (i) file a claim for benefits using the State of California Employment Development Department; (ii) have earned at least $300 in wages subject to State Disability Insurance during the 12 month base period of the claim; (iii) provide proof of relationship for bonding claims; (iv) have the care recipient’s physician/practitioner certify to the need for care by completing a “Physician/Practitioner Certification” claim.

Both mothers and fathers can be eligible for PFL if they meet the following:

  • Have welcomed a new child into the family in the past 12 months (pregnancy, adoption, or foster care);
  • Have paid into State Disability Insurance in the past 5 to 18 months; and
  • Not have taken the maximum six weeks of PFL in the past 12 months.

Eligible employees may also have rights for protected medical leave under federal law through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). In many ways, the protections under CFRA mimic those of the FMLA, with a few major differences:

  • Under the FMLA, an employee who is the child, spouse, parent, or next of kin of a covered service member can take a total of 26 weeks (or 6.5 months) of leave during a 12-month period to care for a covered service member who is injured or ill in the line of duty on active duty. The employee may also retain their health benefits. CFRA does not include the “next of kin” coverage.
  • Under the FMLA, eligible employees may take up to twelve (12) weeks or four (4) months of leave for any “qualifying exigency” arising because the employee has a family member (spouse, child, parent) who is on active military duty or who has been notified of an impending call to active duty status, in support of a contingency operation. The employee may also retain health benefits.  CFRA does not provide this similar coverage for qualifying exigency.

Under FMLA and CFRA, an employee generally must be returning from leave must be returned to their original position or an equivalent position (in terms of pay), benefits, and other terms and conditions.

If you have questions about your rights for medical leave, family bonding leave, or pregnancy leave under California or federal law, or if you think your rights and entitlement to leave have been violated, you should speak with an experience California employee rights lawyer about  your situation to gain knowledge of your rights under the law.


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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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