November 9, 2017    |    By

As an employer in California, you must understand and comply with the laws and regulations regarding leave management. According to the California Chamber of Commerce, handling requests for leave is one of the biggest challenges faced by human resource (HR) departments in the state. Understanding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is essential to ensure that leave requests are managed correctly and to avoid potential legal liabilities. With that in mind, the following is a comprehensive guide to FMLA in California.

How The Family And Medical Leave Act In California Helps

The FMLA was passed to provide employees with job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons. This law applies to all eligible employers, including private employers who have 50 or more employees, public agencies, and elementary and secondary schools. As an employer in California, understanding how the FMLA works can significantly benefit both you and your employees.

For an employee, the FMLA provides time off for personal medical issues or to care for a family member with a serious health condition. This allows them to focus on their health and well-being without fear of losing their job. The FMLA can help employers maintain employee loyalty and reduce turnover by providing leave options when needed. Additionally, it can improve workplace morale and productivity as employees feel supported and have peace of mind knowing they can take leave without repercussions.


Eligibility And Qualifications For Leave Under FMLA

Not all employees are eligible for leave under the FMLA in California. Eligibility for FMLA is determined when an employee requests leave, or their absence may be considered a qualifying reason under the law. The following are the main eligibility requirements for employees to qualify for FMLA leave in California:

  • Employee duration: An employee must have worked for the employer for at least 12 months before the commencement of the FMLA leave. Although the 12 months do not need to be consecutive, the months of employment being counted must be within the past seven years before the start date of leave. 
  • Hours worked: In addition to the duration of employment, an employee must also have worked 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to their leave request.
  • Size and location of employer: Employers who have 50 or more employees within 75 miles of their location are covered under FMLA in California. This means that employees working for smaller employers or those located outside the designated radius may not be eligible for leave under this law. As a result, remote employees or those who work from home may not be eligible for FMLA leave. However, if employers meet one of the exceptions, they may still be required to provide leave under state laws such as CFRA. 

If an employee had a break in service longer than seven years, it may still be counted towards their 12-month employment requirement if the break was due to military service or a written agreement like a collective bargaining agreement. As a result, even if an employee’s 12 months of employment exceeds seven year limit, they may still qualify for FMLA leave if they meet all other eligibility requirements.


What Drives Employees To File For Leave

Employees may need to take time off for various reasons, and the FMLA provides protections for eligible employees who need to take leave. Understanding the reasons behind employee leaves can help you better understand your employees’ needs and ensure compliance with FMLA regulations. The following are some of the common reasons why employees may file an FMLA leave request:

  • Care for a new child: The birth of a child or the placement of a child through adoption or foster care may require employees to take time off to care for their new family member.
  • Health condition recovery: Employees may require time off to recover from a serious health condition.
  • Family health care: Employees may need to take leave to care for a family member with a serious health condition.
  • Military family support: Employees may need to take time off to handle military family needs, such as dealing with a loved one’s deployment or caring for an injured service member.


Duration And Limits Of FMLA Leave In California

The duration of FMLA leave and the limits on how much time an eligible employee can take varies depending on the circumstances. In California, as with all other states, employees are granted a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period. However, in some cases, this limit may be extended for certain military-related leaves or employees caring for a covered servicemember who has a serious illness or injury. 

Additionally, eligible employees may take up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave in a single 12-month period to care for someone who is a covered service member with a serious, military service-related injury or illness.

It is important to note that FMLA leave entitlements are calculated based on the employee’s working hours within the past 12 months, regardless of whether they were consecutive or not. This means that paid non-working time, such as holidays or vacation days, do not count towards the minimum working hour requirement for FMLA leave. However, California has additional requirements for calculating FMLA leave entitlements that may differ from those of other states.

How Are The Hours Calculated?

Calculating FMLA leave entitlement in California follows the same basic principles as other states, but there may be slight differences. Employers must designate a 12-month period within which an employee is eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. In California, you can choose from four methods to calculate FMLA leave eligibility:

  • Rolling 12-month period: This method allows employees to use their 12-week leave entitlement at any point within the preceding 12 months. For example, if an employee takes four weeks of FMLA leave in January, they will have eight weeks remaining until the following January. There are two types of rolling 12-month periods:
    • The rolling forward method: This method allows employees to use their 12-week leave entitlement starting from the date of their first FMLA absence.
    • The rolling backward method: This method counts back 12 months from the date the employee wishes to start their FMLA leave and uses that time period as the applicable year for FMLA leave. 
  • Calendar year: Under this method, the 12-month period is simply based on the calendar year. If an employee takes six weeks of FMLA leave in August, they will have six weeks remaining until the end of the year. 
  • Fixed 12-month period: With this method, employers establish a specific 12-month period for all employees to use as their FMLA leave entitlement. This could be based on the fiscal year or any other period that is consistent and uniformly applied. 
  • Hire date anniversary: This method allows employees to use their 12-week leave entitlement starting from the date they were hired. For example, if an employee’s hire date is July 1, they would have until June 30 of the following year to use their 12 weeks of FMLA leave.

Whichever method you choose, it must be applied consistently to all employees. All eligible employees must be given the same 12-month period within which they can take their FMLA leave entitlement. You can change your chosen calculation method, but you must provide all employees with at least 60 days’ notice before implementing the change.


The Employer’s Crucial Role In FMLA Implementation

As an employer, it is essential to understand your obligations under the California FMLA. This crucial legislation provides eligible employees with job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons. The following are your responsibilities as an employer in implementing FMLA in your workplace:

Addressing Leave Requests

Employees are responsible for following your company’s procedures for requesting leave, as outlined in the employee handbook or internal policies. They should provide you with enough information to determine if their leave is covered under FMLA, but they do not need to disclose a specific diagnosis. Employees need to keep you informed of any changes that may affect the duration of their FMLA leave. By following these procedures, employees and employers can ensure that FMLA leave is properly requested and promptly approved.

Issuing Required Notices

You can deny FMLA leave if an employee fails to provide medical certification within 15 calendar days. However, you should consider any extenuating circumstances that may prevent the employee from obtaining the certification in a timely manner and allow reasonable extensions of time. The medical certification should include the following details: 

  • Contact details of the healthcare provider
  • The projected duration of the serious health condition
  • When the serious health condition began
  • Facts about the serious health condition (which category meets the requirement)
  • The incapacitation of the employee or their family member
  • Whether there is a need for continuous or intermittent leave

If the information provided in the medical certification is deemed questionable, you have the right to seek a second opinion at your expense. If there is a discrepancy between the first and second opinions, a third opinion from an agreed-upon healthcare provider may be requested at your expense. If the second and third opinions do not confirm the employee’s need for FMLA leave, it can be denied, and any leave already taken may be considered unexcused in accordance with company policies. 

This process ensures that FMLA leave is only granted to those needing it for qualifying reasons. Therefore, you should closely review the provided medical certifications and follow proper procedures when seeking second or third opinions.

Maintaining Health Benefits

Under FMLA, you are not required to provide employees with paid leave. However, employees can choose to use their accrued paid leave during their FMLA leave, or the employer may require them to do so. Additionally, any bonuses or benefits due before the employee took FMLA leave must still be provided upon their return. 

You should understand that employees on FMLA leave are still entitled to the same health benefits as those currently employed and should continue paying their premiums according to company policy. Maintaining these benefits can help alleviate any added stress or financial burden for employees during their leave.

Job Restoration Post FMLA Leave

Once an employee’s FMLA leave has ended, they have the right to return to their previous position or a similar one with equivalent duties, skills, salary, and benefits. However, if the employee fails to return to work after their FMLA entitlement has expired, they may not be entitled to reinstatement. 

You should exercise caution when denying reinstatement as the employee could potentially be protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and could be entitled to additional unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation for their disability. In such cases, you should interact with the employee to determine if extra time off is necessary. This ensures employees are treated fairly and reasonably when returning to work after taking FMLA leave. 

You should always be mindful of your obligations under both FMLA and ADA to avoid potential discrimination claims. The ultimate goal is to support your employees during difficult times while maintaining the functionality and productivity of the workplace.

Record Keeping

As an employer, you have the responsibility to maintain accurate records of all FMLA leave taken by your employees for a period of three years. These records must include essential payroll and employee information such as name, address, salary or wage amounts, and number of hours worked per week. Additionally, you must have copies of your company’s policies, procedures, and notices related to FMLA leave readily available for review.

Accurate and up-to-date records can provide valuable evidence to support your decisions regarding FMLA leave in case of an audit or legal proceedings. Additionally, proper record keeping can help track employees’ usage of their allotted 12 weeks of FMLA leave within a 12-month period and ensure compliance with state and federal laws.

You should also be aware of any specific record-keeping requirements in your state, as some may have additional or different regulations than the federal FMLA guidelines. In California, for example, employers are required to maintain records of all FMLA-related documents for four years.

Ensuring Legal Compliance

You must stay updated on any changes or amendments to the law to ensure legal compliance with FMLA regulations. The Department of Labor (DOL) periodically releases updates and clarifications to FMLA guidelines, which can affect an employer’s obligations and responsibilities under the law.

Additionally, you should regularly review your company policies and procedures related to FMLA leave to ensure they align with current regulations as well as best practices. You should train your managers and human resources personnel on FMLA requirements and procedures to avoid any potential legal issues.

You should understand their rights and obligations under the law in the event of a complaint or lawsuit related to the FMLA. Consulting with a legal professional who is experienced in employment law can help ensure that you follow proper procedures and protect yourself from potential legal ramifications. 

By staying informed and proactive, you can effectively navigate the complexities of FMLA regulations while supporting your employees’ rights to take leave for qualifying medical or family reasons.


Employer Compliance Vs. Violations Of the FMLA

There are various ways in which you can violate the FMLA regulations, either intentionally or unintentionally. Some common violations include:

  • Failing to provide proper notice: You are required to provide employees with a general notice of FMLA rights and responsibilities, as well as individual notice specific to an employee’s situation. Failure to provide these notices can be considered a violation.
  • Interfering with an employee’s FMLA rights: You may not interfere with an employee’s right to take FMLA leave or retaliate against an employee for exercising their FMLA rights. This includes denying leave without proper justification, discouraging employees from taking leave, or taking adverse actions against employees who have taken FMLA leave.
  • Refusing to reinstate an employee: In most cases, you must reinstate an employee after their FMLA leave has ended. Failure to do so can result in a violation of the law.
  • Failing to maintain accurate records: As discussed in the previous section, you are responsible for maintaining accurate and up-to-date records related to FMLA leave. Failure to do so can result in legal problems in the event of an audit or legal proceedings.

Employers found in violation of FMLA regulations may face penalties and legal action, including fines and potential lawsuits. Understanding your obligations and responsibilities under the law is important to avoid these consequences.


Best Practices For Successful Leave Implementation

While it is crucial that you understand and comply with FMLA regulations, you should also strive to successfully implement leave policies in your workplace. Doing so not only supports your employees during difficult times but will also create a positive and inclusive work environment. Some best practices for successful leave implementation include:

Comprehensive Policy Development

Having a well-developed and clearly communicated FMLA policy is essential for successful implementation. This includes outlining eligibility, leave duration, employee rights and responsibilities, and any company-specific guidelines. You should also make sure your policies comply with federal and state regulations.

Train HR Personnel

Training HR personnel can help ensure consistency and accuracy in managing FMLA leave requests and procedures. They should have a thorough understanding of FMLA regulations, company policies, and procedures for handling leave requests. Additionally, they should be trained to effectively communicate with and support employees during the leave process.

Streamline Leave Processes

You should have a streamlined process in place for employees to request and track their FMLA leave. This can include using an online platform or designated HR personnel to handle requests, keeping accurate records, and providing timely responses. This not only ensures compliance but also makes the process smoother for both employees and employers.

Effective Communication and Documentation

Open and effective communication between employers, employees, and HR personnel is crucial in successfully implementing FMLA leave. Be sure to clearly communicate the reasons for an employee’s absence to their team members and keep them updated on the employee’s return date. The HR team should also document all communication and any changes to the employee’s leave status.

Outsource HR Management Needs

Outsourcing HR management needs can be beneficial for smaller companies or those without dedicated HR personnel. Doing so allows you to have access to experienced professionals who can effectively manage FMLA leave and ensure compliance with regulations.

By following these best practices, you can comply with FMLA regulations and create a supportive and inclusive work environment for your employees. Prioritizing compliance and effective implementation of FMLA leave can lead to positive outcomes for both you and your employees. Finally, be sure to regularly review and update your company’s policies and procedures to stay current with any changes in regulations or best practices.


Leave the Details, Paperwork, And Compliance To Our Experts

Complying with FMLA regulations can be a complex and time-consuming task. With the potential legal ramifications of non-compliance, you need to stay informed and take proactive steps in managing FMLA leave. However, this does not have to be a burden on your shoulders alone. Seeking assistance from HR experts can help you navigate the intricacies of FMLA regulations and ensure compliance while allowing you to focus on your business operations. 

By prioritizing compliance and effective implementation, you can promote a positive work culture that supports your employees during challenging times. Leave the details, paperwork, and compliance to our experts by contacting us today for professional assistance in managing your FMLA leave policies. Together, we can ensure a fair and equitable workplace for all employees.

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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.