On September 17, 2020, Governor Newsom signed into law a bill vastly expanding employee rights to unpaid leave under California’s Family Rights Act (“CFRA”). While California’s current unpaid family sick leave law is restricted to employers of fifty or more employees, the new law requires employers with just five or more employees to provide such leave. In addition, the new law expands the grounds for leave. As a result, effective January 1, 2021, employers in California with five or more employees will be required to provide the following leave benefits:
- Up to twelve weeks unpaid and protected leave to any employee with a serious medical condition
- Up to twelve weeks to care for a spouse, child, domestic partner, domestic partner’s child, parent, grandparent, or sibling with a serious medical condition
- Up to twelve weeks because of a qualifying military exigency or the call to active duty of a spouse or parent or child
In addition, such employers must maintain the absent employee’s health insurance, including payment of both the employer and employee-paid premiums (recoverable upon the employee’s return). And the employer must guarantee the employee a return to his or her same position, or a comparable one.
Only employees with twelve months of service and 1,250 hours of service in the year prior to the leave are entitled to take leave under the new law.
Revision of Current Leave Policies
The new bill requires nearly every business in California to revise and expand current leave policies. Small businesses will face the biggest burden as they will now need to adjust to lengthy and/or intermittent employee absences. They will also need to train supervisors and managers on leave rights and create new procedures and guidelines on permitting and tracking leave.
While the leave is unpaid, employees may have rights to supplemental income under the Paid Family Leave program operated by the Employment Development Department.
California’s current unpaid sick leave law, restricted to employers of fifty or more, expires January 1, 2021. However, many of the same provisions in the current law are incorporated in the new law. For example, an employer may require an employee or an employee may elect to use vacation benefits during the leave, as well as sick pay benefits for the employee’s own medical condition. An employer may not require an employee to exhaust sick pay benefits while on leave for a family member’s illness absent employee consent. In addition, the employer may require medical certification of the need for leave and may require reasonable advance notice of the leave. Employees remain entitled to additional unpaid time for disability related to pregnancy.