By: Jizell Lopez
Complex laws and regulations provide employees with certain rights and options during medical leave. It is the employer’s responsibility to ensure they understand the nuances of medical leave law to ensure not only compliance, but an easy transition for a medical concern the employee may face in their life. The laws related to medical leave have developed over time and cannot be found in a single statute. Instead, there are numerous applicable and overlapping statutes at both the state and federal level.
The Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) is administered by the U.S. Department of Labor and provides job protected leave to an employee who is absent from work because of the employee’s own serious health condition or to care for specified family members with serious health conditions, as well as for the birth of a child and to care and bond for a new child. In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must: (1) work 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of leave; (2) work at a location where 50 or more employees work at that location or within 75 miles of it; and (3) have worked for the employer for 12 months.
The California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”) is administered by the California Civil Rights Department. The CFRA provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12 month period. The CFRA allows eligible employees to bond with a new child, or to care for themselves, a family member, or a designated person with a serious health condition. In order to be eligible for CFRA leave, an employee must: (1) work 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of leave; (2) work at a location where 5 or more employees work; and (3) have worked for the employer for 12 months.
Many employees and employers assume that because the basic principles of FMLA and CFRA are alike, they should be administered the same. However, this is a common misconception. While both FMLA and CFRA provide up to 12-weeks of job-protected leave and have nearly identical eligibility requirements, there are significant differences that employers and employees should be aware of.
- The CFRA provides protections to a larger portion of the workforce and leave will be granted for more familial relationships, including to care for a domestic partner, a grandparent, a grandchild, sibling, or designated person with a serious health condition. Under the FMLA, a covered family member is limited to a spouse, child, or parent.
- The CFRA has strict limitations regarding employer requests to medical providers. Under the CFRA, medical certification forms cannot seek the identification of symptoms or diagnosis of an employee’s serious health condition from the healthcare provider. Whereas under the FMLA, employers may request a diagnosis of an employee’s serious health condition when necessary.
- Under both the CFRA and FMLA, certifications from a medical provider may be requested considering the above caveats. Under the FMLA, employers may require second and third medical certifications for employees or family members if the employer has a “reason to doubt” the validity of a certification. FMLA recertification may also be required every six months, even if the original certification has not expired. Whereas under the CFRA, employers may require certification for a employee’s medical condition only and may only require recertifications when the original certification expires.
The nuances associated with CFRA and the FMLA are vital for both employers and employees to understand and, as such, should consult with an experienced employment attorney to navigate the complex laws associated with medical leaves.