California recently expanded its California Family Rights Act (CFRA), dramatically changing the legal landscape and available leave benefits to many employees in the state. Before enacting the CFRA, California law mirrored the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The newly expanded bill, signed by Governor Newsom, extends family and medical leave of absence requirements to employers with at least five employees in California. Further, the Act requires qualifying employers to provide unpaid protected family/medical/military leave to qualifying employees.
As the CFRA goes into effect, it will continue to impact the rights of California employees profoundly. The bill contains many significant changes, including the expansion of CFRA coverage to employers with five or more employees, rather than the previous standard of 50 or more employees. The new standard eliminates the requirement that employees work within 75 miles of the worksite. Further, the CFRA now includes additional family members from whom an eligible employee can take leave to provide care. These family members include siblings, grandparents, grandchildren, domestic parameters, and some qualifying adult children. The changes will also affect parents who work for the same employer. The CFRA provides that qualifying employers provide up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period to each parent. Additionally, while FMLA covered leave for military duty, the pre-amendment CFRA did not provide leave for active military duty.
Prior to the change, the CFRA permitted employers to exempt the highest 10% earners in situations where the refusal to grant CFRA is necessary to prevent grievous economic injury. However, the new standard eliminates this 10% exemption option. Most notably, the changes eliminate some potential problems that arise when an employee attempts to evoke the CFRA and FMLA. The expansion will allow some employees to use leave under the CFRA and FMLA for a different qualifying reason. Finally, the new standard separates pregnancy disability leave into distinct rights under California state law, CFRA, and FMLA.