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September 29, 2022 | CaliforniaFrom the blogGeneral

What Is the California Family Rights Act?

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Carlianna Dengel

Associate Attorney

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) is the state’s version of the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  It allows eligible employees to take up to twelve workweeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons without jeopardizing their job security.  While the two laws are similar, generally, CFRA covers a wider group of employees and more caregiving situations.  Whether you are an employer or employee, you should understand the rules to avoid problems when giving or receiving leave under the Act.

Who Is Covered by the California Family Rights Act?

The CFRA applies to private employers with five or more employees.  To qualify for leave, employees must have been working for their employer for more than twelve months and logged at least 1,250 hours with that employer during the last twelve months.  Employees who meet those criteria can take up to twelve workweeks of unpaid leave in any one-year period for: 

  1. The birth of the employee’s child;
  2. The placement of a child with the employee through adoption or foster care;
  3. The care of a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse or domestic partner with a health condition involving inpatient care or continuing treatment or supervision by a health care provider;
  4. The employee’s own serious health condition, involving either inpatient care or continuing treatment or supervision by a health care provider, that makes the employee unable to perform necessary job-related functions; or
  5. An emergency related to the active duty of the employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child or parent in the military.

Importantly, employees are eligible for leave to care for their non-biological relatives.  The CFRA includes relatives through marriage, foster care, adoption, legal guardianship, and children to whom the employee acts as a parent.

What Are the Rights and Obligations of Parties Under the CFRA? 

Employers are not obligated to offer paid leave under the CFRA.  As to unpaid leave, employers and employees must comply with the following rules:

  • Use of vacation or other time. Employers may require employees to use their vacation time or other paid or unpaid time off toward their leave.  Employees are entitled to use any paid or unpaid leave they have accumulated during this time.
  • Health insurance. Employers must provide a healthcare plan for the duration of the leave that meets the same level of coverage and under the same conditions that would have been offered if the employee had not left.  Further, employees can participate in health plans for any time the employer does not provide coverage.
  • Employee benefit plans. Employees can still participate in life insurance, disability or accident insurance, pension and retirement plans and supplemental unemployment benefit plans at the same level of coverage and under the same conditions as any other unpaid leave.
  • Advance notice. If possible, the employee must provide reasonable advance notice of the need for the leave.  If leave is due to a planned medical treatment, the employee must try to schedule the treatment to avoid disrupting the employer’s operations.
  • Doctor’s notes. Employees may be required to provide one or more doctor’s notes regarding their health condition or the condition of the sick relative.

How Does the CFRA Differ From the FMLA?

As noted above, the laws are similar but not identical.  Generally, both laws provide twelve weeks of unpaid leave.  If both statutes apply to an employee, the leave runs at the same time.  There is one exception where the FMLA provides additional time: employees who are the spouse, son, daughter, parent or next of kin to a servicemember needing care are entitled to twenty-six weeks of leave within any one-year period.  This extension applies even when both statutes apply.

Other key differences between the laws include the following:

  • Covered employers. The FMLA covers private employers with fifty or more employees within a seventy-five-mile radius, whereas the CFRA applies to private employers with five or more employees without a geographical restriction.
  • Eligible family members. Unlike the FMLA, the CFRA covers a wider group of relatives including parent-in-laws, domestic partners, children of any age, children of domestic partners, grandparents, grandchildren and siblings with a serious health condition.
  • Military members. The CFRA allows domestic partners of military service members to be granted leave under certain circumstances, whereas the FMLA limits leave to spouses.  However, the FMLA offers more leave time for military service members than the CFRA (twenty-six workweeks) as noted above.
  • Intermittent or reduced leave. The FMLA does not allow intermittent or a reduced leave schedule unless agreed upon by the employer and the employee or when medically necessary.  The CFRA permits intermittent leave.
  • Pregnancy-related health issues are included under the FMLA but not the CFRA.  Such coverage is separately addressed by California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave Law.
  • Combined leave. The FMLA combines the total leave time for spouses at the same employer.  The CFRA requires employers to grant both parents leave separately.
  • Highly paid employees. Under the FMLA, such employees may be denied reinstatement to prevent economic harm to the employer, but the CFRA does not allow this.

When Are Employee Jobs Protected?

Employers must guarantee employees requesting leave employment in the same or a comparable job when they return.  This is defined as positions with the same or similar duties and pay at the same or a similar location as the position before leave.  Further, employers cannot refuse to hire, fire, suspend or discriminate against employees for leaving under the CFRA or for giving information about their own or another’s leave.


Leave laws can be confusing.  If you are an employee seeking leave or an employer needing guidance on complying with the CFRA and FMLA, contact a member of our team for next steps.

Carlianna Dengel is admitted to practice law in New York and California.

Photo by Aditya Romansa on Unsplash
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