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Helping You Navigate Workplace Issues in California

When You’re Sick With a Medical Condition and Need Time Off: Who Is Entitled to Medical Leave Under California Law


Life happens. Maybe it is your own serious medical condition or that of an immediate family member.  When a medical emergency occurs, the last thing on your mind may be the worry of whether you will come back to a job.

Luckily for employees in California, both federal and state laws require that most employers grant leave to their employees for disabilities or serious medical conditions.

The Family & Medical Leave Act

Since the 1990s, the federal Family Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has set the baseline for mandatory leave policies. FMLA applies to any employer that employs at least 50 people within a 75-mile radius of a given job site. Individual employees are eligible for leave after they been with the employer for at least 1 year and worked at least 1,250 hours over the 12 months preceding the leave request.

FMLA allows an eligible employee to take up to 12 weeks of leave over a 12-month period to deal with pregnancy or the care of a new child, or to address a “serious health condition,” either their own or that of a spouse, child, or parent. FMLA leave is generally unpaid, but if an employee has accrued pay leave under the employer’s policies, he or she may opt to use that.

What Teleworkers Need to Know About FMLA Eligibility

As Gallup recently reported, the number of Americans working from home is now at a record high. Remote workers face some unique challenges, including when it comes to understanding their FMLA eligibility. Under FMLA regulations, workers are only covered by the law if they are employed at a worksite where at least 50 employees are employed by the company within 75 miles.

This has led to considerable confusion. Some people incorrectly interpret this language to mean that remote workers are automatically eligible for FMLA benefits. That is false. For the purposes of the FMLA, a telecommuting employee’s ‘worksite’ is generally defined as the location at which their company assigns their work, not their home office. The FMLA also has rules and regulations for employees with no fixed worksite, such as roving salespersons or construction workers. As a telecommuting worker, you may qualify for unpaid leave under FMLA.

If you have any questions or concerns about your FMLA eligibility, or you believe that your legal rights have been violated under the law, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced California employment law attorney as soon as possible.

California Family Rights Act

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) is the state-level equivalent of the FMLA, although it has a broader application. CFRA applies to employers with at least 20 workers within 75 miles of a given job site, as opposed to the 50-employee threshold in the FMLA. The individual employee eligibility requirements are the same: at least 1 year working for the employer and at least 1,250 hours of service prior to requesting leave.

CFRA also provides for 12 weeks of leave for employees who need to care for a new child or deal with a serious health condition. California has a separate Paid Family Leave (PFL) program that provides up to six weeks of benefits. PFL must be taken in conjunction with FMLA or CFRA leave where applicable. But even employees without PFL benefits may still be paid during CFRA leave if they have accrued paid leave or vacation time with the employer.

California Pregnancy Disability Leave

Pregnant employees may be entitled to additional benefits under California law. The state’s Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) law applies to businesses with as few as 5 employees. Unlike FMLA and CFRA, there is no minimum tenure or length-of-service requirements for PDL. The employee only needs to have a disability or medical condition related to pregnancy, including recently giving birth or suffering from postpartum depression.

Employees may be eligible for up to 4 months of PDL leave. An employer is required to pay the employee during this time if it has a policy of paying employees who take any kind of “temporary disability” leave. And as with the other laws discussed above, an employee may also use paid vacation time or leave while on PDL.

Understanding Your Rights Under the Law

Regardless of the type of leave you take, it is illegal for your employer punish you (or fire you) for exercising your legal rights. This means you must be reinstated to the same or comparable position once your leave ends, and your employer must continue paying for your health coverage if you receive it. If you have reason to suspect that your employer is not complying with any of its obligations under the FMLA, CFRA, or PDL laws, or believe you were targeted due to your medical condition or need for leave, you should speak with a qualified California employment law attorney right away.




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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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