June 13, 2024    |    By

As a business owner or decision-maker, you may hesitate to give employees time off whenever they request it. After all, how can you ensure your business runs smoothly without all hands on deck? However, there are cases in which providing an employee with time off is the right thing to do, as well as being a legal requirement. In fact, the state of California has several laws in place that protect employees’ rights to take leave of absence for various reasons. 

Understanding these laws is critical for upholding your legal obligations and maintaining a positive workplace culture. With that in mind, the following guide will delve into the details of these leave of absence laws and provide guidance on how to navigate them in a workplace setting.

What Are The California Leave Of Absence (LOA) Laws?

Leave of absence (LOA) is a period of time that an employee takes off from work. In California, there are various state and federal laws that govern leave of absence. These laws provide employees with the legal right to take unpaid time off from work for specific reasons without fear of losing their jobs or facing retaliation from their employers. 

The following are the laws that give employees the right to take a leave of absence in California:

  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): The FMLA is a federal law that gives eligible employees the ability to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for reasons such as caring for a family member who is sick, bonding with a new child, or attending to their own serious health condition. This law applies to all public agencies and private companies with 50 or more employees.
  • California Family Rights Act (CFRA): The CFRA provides employees with the right to take up to 12 weeks off (in unpaid leave) in a 12-month period for medical or family reasons, including supporting a seriously ill family member or taking care of a new child. Although similar to the FMLA, the CFRA extends coverage to California employers with five or more employees. 
  • California Paid Family Leave (PFL): The PFL is a state-run program that provides eligible employees with partial wage replacement for up to six weeks when they take time off to care for a new baby or look after an ill family member. The difference between the CFRA and the PFL is that the PFL provides employees with partial wage replacement, while the CFRA does not.
  • Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA): FEHA is a California law prohibiting discrimination and harassment in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on specified protected categories, such as race, sexual orientation, gender, and disability. While the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) focuses specifically on providing eligible employees with unpaid leave for family and medical reasons, FEHA addresses a broader scope of anti-discrimination protections in various areas of life beyond just employment. FEHA also covers a wider range of protected categories than CFRA.

Different Types of Leave Available in California

Under the state and federal laws mentioned above, employees are legally entitled to take several types of leave. These include:

  • Medical leave: As mentioned earlier, the FMLA and CFRA provide employees with unpaid time off to attend to serious medical conditions. California also has its own state-specific law, namely the Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL), which provides job-protected leave for employees who are disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions. It offers up to four months of leave per pregnancy. PDL covers all California employees, regardless of the size of their employer, and focuses specifically on pregnancy-related disabilities.
  • Family leave: Under the FMLA and CFRA, employees can take time off to care for a family member who is ill or to bond with a new child. In addition, California has a state-specific law known as the Kin Care Law, which requires employers who provide paid sick leave to allow employees to use up to half of their accrued sick leave to care for a sick family member. This law allows employees to use their sick leave not only for their own illness but also to care for a child, parent, spouse, or registered domestic partner who is ill. 
  • Disability leave: In California, employees who become temporarily disabled because of a non-work-related injury or illness are entitled to take up to 104 weeks of leave under the state’s disability insurance program. Employers can also offer their own long-term disability benefits that provide additional coverage beyond the state’s requirements.
  • Military leave: The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) is a federal law that protects employees’ rights to take military leave. In addition, California has its own military-specific law, known as the California Military and Veterans Code. This allows employees who are members of the California National Guard, State Military Reserve, or Naval Militia to take temporary leave from their civilian employment for military duty, training, or related activities.

Eligibility Criteria For Taking An LOA In California

For an employee to be eligible to take a leave of absence under the state and federal laws mentioned above, specific criteria must be met. These criteria may vary depending on the type of leave being requested and the employer’s size. Some standard eligibility requirements for taking an LOA in California include:

  • Minimum length of employment: In most cases, employees must have worked at least 12 months for their current employer before they can take an LOA.
  • Number of hours worked: Employees are required to have worked a minimum of 1,250 hours within the last 12 months (or around 24 hours per week) to be eligible for FMLA or CFRA leave.
  • Size of employer: As noted above, FMLA and CFRA only apply to organizations with 50 or more employees. PFL applies to all employers in California.
  • Reason for the leave: Under the relevant laws, employees must have a valid reason for taking an LOA, whether for their own serious health condition or that of a family member.

Keep in mind that eligibility criteria may differ depending on the type of employee (e.g., full-time vs part-time) and their employment status (e.g., permanent vs contractual). The following are some general guidelines for different types of employees:

  • Full-time vs. part-time: In most cases, the eligibility criteria for taking an LOA are the same for both full-time and part-time employees. However, part-time employees must have worked an equivalent of 1,250 hours in the previous 12-month period to be eligible for FMLA or CFRA leave.
  • Permanent vs. contractual: Eligibility criteria may differ for permanent and contractual employees depending on their employment agreements. Some employers may offer certain benefits and protections under these laws to all employees, regardless of their employment status. Employees need to review their individual employment contracts and company policies to understand their specific eligibility requirements for taking an LOA.

You should familiarize yourself with these criteria and ensure you comply with the laws when considering an employee’s request for an LOA.

The Process Of Requesting A Leave Of Absence

Employees cannot simply disappear without notifying their employers, as this could result in disciplinary action or termination of employment—even if they have a valid reason for taking a leave of absence. Therefore, employees need to follow the appropriate steps for requesting and taking an LOA.

The process for requesting an LOA may differ depending on the type of leave being requested and the employer’s policies. However, some general steps that employees should follow when requesting an LOA include:

  1. Notify their employer: Employees must notify their employer as soon as possible about their need to take an LOA. This notification should generally be in writing and include the reason for the leave, its expected duration, and any supporting medical documentation.
  2. Complete necessary paperwork: Employers may require employees to fill out certain forms or provide them with additional documentation to support their request for an LOA.
  3. Coordinate with HR/benefits department: Employees should work closely with their HR or benefits department to ensure they follow all necessary procedures and receive any applicable benefits during their leave.
  4. Plan for coverage: Employers may require employees to arrange for coverage or shift their work responsibilities while on leave, especially if the absence is for an extended period of time.
  5. Stay in touch: Employees should stay in communication with their employer and provide updates on their status, as well as inform them of any changes that may affect the duration or reason for the LOA.
  6. Return to work: Upon returning from an LOA, employees must provide notice to their employer and resume their job duties, unless otherwise agreed upon.

Both employers and employees should communicate openly and effectively throughout the process of taking an LOA. Doing so will help ensure a smooth transition back into work and maintain a positive working relationship.

How Does Compensation Work For Leave Of Absence?

Compensation for a leave of absence may vary depending on the type of leave taken and the employer’s policies. In general, there are two types of LOAs: paid and unpaid.

Paid Leave

Paid leave of absence refers to any period of time off work where an employee continues to receive their regular salary or wage. Employers generally offer this type of LOA as a benefit for employees. It may be used for various reasons, such as vacation, sick days, and personal time off. Some common types of paid LOAs include:

  • Vacation leave: In California, employers can create their own vacation time policies. However, if an employer offers vacation time, they must follow certain guidelines set by law. This includes not discriminating against employees based on protected classes and allowing for different accrual methods such as “accrual as you go” or “lump sum.” Employees typically earn vacation time based on their length of service.
  • Sick leave: In California, employers must provide employees with at least 40 hours or five days of paid sick leave per year. This includes full-time, part-time, and temporary employees working for the same employer for at least 30 days within a year in California.
  • Personal time off (PTO): PTO combines vacation and sick leave into one bank of paid time off that employees can use for any reason. Keep in mind that employers have no legal requirement to provide PTO, so it is up to each employer’s discretion.
  • Jury duty: California law protects employees who serve on jury duty from adverse employment actions, such as termination or retaliation. However, employers are not required to provide paid time off for jury service. If an employer does have a policy of offering paid leave for jury duty, they must abide by it and cannot discriminate against employees for serving on a jury.

Unpaid Leave

Unpaid leave of absence refers to any period of time off work where an employee does not receive their regular salary or wage. This type of LOA is generally taken when an employee exhausts their paid leave options or needs extended time off beyond what is typically offered by their employer. Some common types of unpaid LOAs include:

  • FMLA/CFRA/PFL leave: As discussed earlier, these types of unpaid leave are protected by law. However, employees may be able to supplement their income by using accrued paid time off or applying for disability insurance.
  • Personal leave: Personal leave is typically used when an employee needs extended time off beyond what is covered by other leaves, and they do not qualify for state or federal protections. This type of LOA is usually unpaid and must be approved by the employer.
  • Military leave: Employees serving in the military are legally entitled to take unpaid leave for deployments, training, and other military-related duties.
  • Parental leave: In California, employers with 20 or more employees are required to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents to care for their children within one year of birth, adoption, or foster care placement. This is protected by the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and applies to both mothers and fathers.
  • Educational leave: Educational leave gives employees the right to take time off work to pursue further education or training without losing their jobs. However, it is generally unpaid and must be approved by the employer. Some states have laws that require employers to grant educational leave for certain circumstances, such as attending a public school meeting or enrolling in college courses.

Can Employers Deny An LOA Request?

As an employer, you have the right to deny a request for an LOA under certain circumstances. These include when an employee does not qualify for leave under state or federal laws when the request is not made in advance or is not supported by proper documentation, and when granting leave would cause significant disruption to business operations.

For example, if an employee requests FMLA/CFRA leave due to an illness that does not meet the eligibility criteria, you may deny the request. Similarly, if an employee fails to provide proper documentation, such as a doctor’s note, supporting their need for leave, you may refuse the request. If the employee provides the correct documentation but does not give advance notice, you may delay the leave until proper notice is given.

However, you must be careful not to deny leave based on discriminatory reasons or retaliation against an employee for exercising their rights under state or federal law. Doing so could result in legal repercussions.

Employees’ Rights And Protections During Their Leave

Employees who take a leave of absence in California have certain rights and protections under state and federal laws. These include:

  • Job protection: Most protected leaves, such as FMLA/CFRA leave, provide job protection for employees. This means that when they return from their leave, they are entitled to the same or similar position at the same pay rate as before their leave.
  • Continued benefits: During a paid LOA, an employee typically continues to receive their benefits as usual. However, employees may sometimes be required to pay the employers’ portion of health insurance premiums during an unpaid LOA if they wish to maintain coverage. 
  • Use of paid time off: As mentioned earlier, employees may be able to use accrued paid time off, such as vacation or sick leave, to supplement their income during an unpaid LOA.
  • Prohibition of retaliation: It is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for taking a protected leave. This includes denying promotions, raises, or other benefits solely based on an employee’s use of a protected leave.

Professional employer organizations (PEOs) can assist your business in navigating the complexities of managing and granting leaves of absence. PEOs handle many administrative tasks related to HR, including tracking and managing employee leaves, ensuring compliance with state and federal laws regarding LOAs, and providing guidance to employers on how to handle specific situations.

Practical Considerations for Employers and Employees

When an employee needs to take a leave of absence, it can present challenges for both the employer and the employee. After all, work still needs to be done, and the employee may have concerns about job security and income during their time away. The following are a few tips for both employers and employees to consider:

  • Communication and documentation best practices: Communication is key when it comes to LOAs. Employers should have clear policies in place outlining eligibility criteria, request procedures, and documentation requirements for leave requests. Employees should also communicate as soon as possible with their employer about their need for a leave of absence and provide any necessary documentation to support their request.
  • Strategies for managing leave requests: Employers should consistently apply their leave policies to avoid accusations of unfair treatment. It is also essential for employers to plan and prepare for an employee’s absence, such as by cross-training other employees or hiring temporary replacements, if necessary. By having a plan in place, employers can minimize disruptions to business operations.
  • Navigating intermittent leave: Intermittent leave allows employees to take time off in smaller increments rather than a continuous block. Employers may find this more challenging to manage as it can disrupt workflow and cause scheduling conflicts. However, employers must accommodate intermittent leave requests if the employee is eligible and has proper documentation. To prevent issues, employers should have a clear policy in place for managing intermittent leave requests. This may include requiring employees to provide advance notice of their need for time off or documenting the hours and days taken as intermittent leave.
  • Coordination of different types of leave: Employers may have employees who are eligible for multiple types of leave, such as FMLA/CFRA leave and workers’ compensation. In these situations, employers need to coordinate the different types of leave so that employees receive all the benefits they are entitled to without overlapping or duplicating them.

Worry Less About Your Business Technicalities With O2

As an employer, managing and complying with various LOA laws and policies can be time-consuming and complicated. That’s where O2 Employment Services comes in to help. We understand the complexities and legalities surrounding employee LOA, and we have a team of HR experts dedicated to assisting employers with navigating these challenges.

By partnering with O2, you can save time and money by outsourcing your leave management responsibilities. Our team can handle all aspects of employee leaves, from tracking eligibility and entitlements to providing guidance on managing specific situations. This gives you the ability to focus on running your business while ensuring compliance with state and federal laws.

Express Care For Your Employees by Allowing Leave of Absence 

At O2 Employment Services, we offer comprehensive employee relations services for North California businesses. This includes assisting with creating policies that comply with employment laws and regulations, conducting investigations into workplace issues, and training managers and supervisors. By taking care of your employee relations needs, we can help you create a positive work environment that prioritizes the well-being of all your employees.

Ready to ensure compliance and streamline your leave of absence processes?

Contact us today for expert guidance and support!
This blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created between the author and reader of this blog post, and its content should not be relied upon as legal advice. Readers are urged to consult legal counsel when seeking legal advice.

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