California Family Rights Act Amended to Expand Benefits for Employees
Governor Newsom signed S.B. 1383 into law on September 17, 2020. It expanded the benefits afforded to employees under the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”). S.B. 1383 broadens the scope of employers who are subject to CFRA. CFRA is the California State law “equivalent” to Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”)—which is a federal law. Equivalent is in quotation marks because CFRA has much broader protections for employees than FMLA.
It is helpful to think of federal labor and employment laws as a floor, not a ceiling. In other words, many federal labor and employment laws provide the bare minimum protection to workers in the US—and employers may not provide less than these minimum protections. However, each state has the ability to pass state laws that provide greater protections to employees than federal law.
Further, employers have the option to provide greater protections than those required by federal law (FMLA) and/or state law (CFRA). In this example, FMLA is the “floor,” which provides the minimum protection to employees in every state across the US—provided the employer has 50 or more employees. FMLA assists employees in the US who wish to take time off for qualifying reasons—typically related to the serious health condition of either the employee or an employee’s family member.
California is a great example of a state that consistently passes state laws that require its employers to provide more protection than federal law–in other words–the “floor.”
S.B. 1383 requires smaller employers with as few as five employees to offer the benefits afforded under CFRA. Clearly—CFRA covers a lot more employers than FMLA. It provides California residents the ability to take leave for qualifying reasons at a much greater proportion than FMLA. In addition, S.B. 1383 expands the qualifying reasons an employee can use to take family and medical leave. The new law also increases the number of categories of family members for whom leave may be taken.
Employees Eligible to Take Leave Under the CFRA
To be eligible for the leave benefits under the CFRA, an employee must have at least 12 months of service working for their employer, and they must have worked at least 1,250 hours in the prior 12-month period.
Smaller Employers Now Subject to CFRA
Prior to the enactment of S.B. 1383, the CFRA only applied to employers with fifty or more employees, which was the same threshold as FMLA. Under the amended CFRA, employers with five or more employees must now comply with CFRA and provide up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave to eligible employees for covered reasons.
New Reasons Available to Employees to Take Leave Under the CFRA
Prior to the enactment of S.B. 1383, an employee could take leave under the CFRA to care for a spouse, domestic partner, parent, or child. With the enactment of S.B. 1383, an employee can also take CFRA leave to care for grandparents, grandchildren, and/or siblings.
S.B. 1383 also expands qualifying exigencies related to an employee’s family member who is called to active military service. This amendment aligns CFRA with the FMLA provision that enables FMLA to be used for qualifying military exigencies.
Stacking CFRA and FMLA Leave Benefits
The expanded benefits under CFRA create the possibility that, in certain circumstances, an employee could access leave benefits under both the CFRA and FMLA to get a total of 24 weeks of job-protected leave. This is because CFRA allows an employee to use leave benefits to care for family members that are not covered by the FMLA. In this unique situation, leave under the two laws technically will not run concurrently, allowing for the possibility of an employee exhausting their 12 weeks of leave under the CFRA while still being entitled to 12 weeks of leave under FMLA (for a different reason that qualifies under FMLA).
As you can see, this CFRA amendment greatly expands the leave benefits available to employees working for a broader array of employees who meet specific statutory requirements. In addition to the expanded leave benefits under CFRA, employees in California are also able to take four months of pregnancy disability leave, which employers with five or more employees must already provide to qualifying employees.