Defending Your California Workplace Leave of Absence Rights
Under California’s leave of absence laws, employees are allowed to take time off for certain short or extended periods without losing their job. If you are requesting or taking a leave of absence in any one of the circumstances protected by law, you may be entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, or even longer, depending on the circumstances underlying the request.
California’s leave of absence laws are amongst the broadest or most generous in the United States. The laws are designed to provide protections for employees who require time to deal with a family emergency, personal health issues, pregnancy, or even to bond with a new child. Some of these laws include:
- California Family Rights Act (CFRA), similar to the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- New Parent Leave Act (NPLA)
- Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act
- Labor Code 230.1 (Domestic Violence), 233 (Kin Care), 1025-1028 (Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation)
- Michelle Maykin Memorial Protection Act (Organ and Bone Marrow)
- Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)
Historically, it was almost impossible for workers to enjoy time off work in these circumstances. Unless an employer had favorable policies, nothing stopped a worker from losing their job or being shunted out to a less fulfilling job after returning from leave.
But these days in California, you can legally request a leave of absence for a wide variety of reasons without fear of job loss. If you are denied a leave of absence when this type of time-off is permissible under California law, you may be in a position to take legal action against your employer.
Permissible Reasons for a Leave of Absence in California
A review of some of the major reasons a leave of absence is legally permissible in California provides you insights into your legal rights. Before diving into these reasons, there are some limitations in regard to the companies that must provide different types of leaves of absence:
- 50 or more employees who have worked over 12 months and at least 1250 hours
- Who work at a location with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius
With that said, there are some specific laws that mandate smaller enterprises to provide leaves of absences in specific situations. These include the NPLA, which applies to employers with 20 to 50 employees.
Situations in which California employees may be in a position to seek a leave of absence include:
- Care for a family member: Both the FMLA and CFRA allow eligible employees take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for an eligible relative with a serious health condition. This may include any illness or health condition that involves continuing treatment by a health provider or in-patient care in a residential medical care, hospice or hospital facility. Eligible relatives are a spouse, child, registered domestic partner or a parent.
- Bond with a new child: The NPLA allows a parent take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period to care for or bond with a new child. This includes a biological or adopted child.
- Give birth or recover from a pregnancy: An employee may take up to 122 days leave for pregnancy or childbirth related medical conditions. The laws apply to employers with 5 or more employees, including all public employers.
- Recover from a health condition: This is also provided under California’s CFRA and allows an employee take up to 12 weeks leave for a personal medical condition. Any health condition that prevents you from performing the functions of your job qualifies. Your employer may require some certification of the health challenge though, such as a doctor’s note.
- Attend the funeral of a loved one: If your employer has policies that allow it, you can legitimately take time off to mourn the loss of a loved one.
- Vote in an election: Under California’s Election Code, an employer should give up to 2 hours of paid time to allow an employee vote, if they don’t have enough time outside work hours. But the employee must provide at least 3 days’ notice.
- Take part in a trial: Under the Labor Code, you may take time off work to serve on a jury or as a witness, so long as you provide reasonable notice. The law does not require this leave to be paid though.
- Obtain domestic violence protection: If you were a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking, you can take time off work to protect yourself or recover. This includes obtaining a restraining order, medical attention or other services.
- Take part in a trial as a victim of crime: You may take time off to participate in a trial for a crime committed against you. This includes appearing at pre-trial, sentencing and post-conviction release proceedings.
- Participate in a child’s school activities: You can request up to 40 hours per year to address a child care emergency or participate in school activities.
- Attend an adult literacy program: Employers with 25 or more employees must allow their employee time off work to continue their education.
- Participate in rehab: If your employer has more than 25 employees, they must also let you go for drug/alcohol rehab when you need it.
- Donate an organ or bone marrow: You can go on paid leave to donate an organ or bone marrow, if your employer has 15 or more employees.
- For military family or spouse leave: The FMLA allows you take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period to care for a child, spouse, parent who is a military service member.
Understandably, California laws governing leaves of absence are complicated and even confusing. Therefore, if you feel that you have been denied the opportunity to take advantage of a legally available form of leave of absence, an employment law lawyer from Eldessouky Law at (714) 409-8991 can provide you additional information and answer any questions that you might have on these types of issues.
Leave of Absence for Stress
Often, we tend to look over stress as something deserving of taking time off work. But stress can be dangerous as it can lead to the development of several disorders including anxiety, depression or even just burnout. It can worsen or increase the risk of obesity, gastro-intestinal problems, heart disease or diabetes.
If you genuinely feel stressed at work, then you should not downplay your symptoms. Go see a doctor and inform them of exactly how you feel and get their recommendations. They will advise you of the best way to recover and if an FMLA-approved leave of absence or a shortened workweek can help.
Length of Leaves of Absence in California
There are no lower limits for how long a worker may go on leave. As mentioned above, your leave of absence may be for as little as 2 hours (for voting leave), or as long as 26 weeks (for military family or spouse leave).
However, you cannot take more than the allowed periods in any case. You cannot go on leave without going through the proper channels either. Even for statutory leave, which your employer must provide once you request, you must follow the appropriate procedure.
Once you have followed the legal procedure, your employer cannot prevent you from proceeding on statutory leave. There are limited circumstances where an employer can successfully prevent you from going on leave. These include:
- Employer-provided leave that is not covered under local, state or federal law
- Where you are not covered by the leave laws; or
- Where you do not qualify for the type of leave you are requesting.
Termination and a Lawful Leave of Absence
If you comply with all relevant procedures before going on leave, there are very limited situations in which you may be fired while on leave. It is important to note that none of these situations can be discriminatory, retaliatory, or contrary to the leave of absence laws.
So long as your stress leave is documented and supported by a valid doctor’s recommendation, you are protected under disability laws while on leave. Your employment cannot be terminated because you decided to go on leave.
Your employer must keep your old job for when you resume, and if the old job is no longer available, your employer must provide an equivalent.
If you went on stress leave and were informed that you have been terminated, speak to a California wrongful termination attorney at once by calling Eldessouky Law at (714) 409-8991.
Your Rights if Terminated for Taking a Medical Leave of Absence
If you were on leave for a qualifying disability, you cannot be terminated simply for exercising your leave of absence rights. So long as you have complied with all relevant procedures, including providing a doctor’s certificate showing your health condition and recommendation for leave, you generally are protected.
Further, in certain instances, your employer still has an obligation to provide accommodation even when you have not provided a medical diagnosis. In Ross v County of Riverside, the plaintiff informed his employer that he may be “seriously ill with a neuro-generative disease”, but before he could provide documentation, he was ordered to return to work. The court held that the employer was aware of his potentially disabling condition and should have provided accommodation.
If you are being threatened with termination or if your employer is refusing to let you go on medical leave, you may be able to file a complaint. Speak to our disability discrimination attorneys to understand your rights by calling (714) 409-8991 to speak with an experienced Eldessouky Law employment law attorney.
Tips for Writing a Leave of Absence Request
A leave of absence letter should clearly state that you are requesting for leave and the reasons why you wish to go on leave. It should include:
- The dates you expect to be away from work
- The date on which you expect to resume
- Enough evidence to help your employer evaluate your request
You should also avoid writing a request for leave too close to the day on which you want to go on leave. Employers prefer to receive sufficient notice and may even require several weeks’ notice. Ensure you follow all appropriate procedures so you can go on properly documented and authorized leave.
Contact Eldessouky Law to Protect Your Legal Rights
If you want to gain a better understanding of what your leave of absence rights, contact Eldessouky Law. Our employment law attorneys can help you determine how your rights apply and how to proceed with enforcing them. Call 714-409-8991 to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation today.