California Family Rights ActThe California Family Rights Act (CFRA) authorizes eligible employees to take up a total of 12 weeks of paid or unpaid job-protected leave during a 12-month period. While on leave, employees keep the same employer-paid health benefits they had while working.

Eligible employees can take the leave for one or more of the following reasons:

  • The birth of a child or adoption or foster care placement of a child.
  • To care for an immediate family member (spouse, child or parent) with a serious health condition.
  • When the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.

If you’re researching how to cover an absence from work to care for yourself or a family member, you might think that above description might sound confusingly similar to that of Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—and you’re not far off target.

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) amended a previous law so that it generally mirrored the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

For example, similar to FMLA, CFRA allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for the birth of a child, the adoption of a child or the placement of a child in foster care. It also allows leave to care for a seriously ill family member or for the employee’s own health condition, other than pregnancy-related disability.

However, with the enactment of additional California laws, differences between CFRA and FMLA have become more numerous.

So, how is the CFRA different from FMLA? There are four major differences between the two:

1. Pregnancy as a “Serious Health Condition”:

FMLA covers pregnancy as a serious health condition, while CFRA does not. Instead, in California, a pregnant employee is entitled to a Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) of up to 4 months (16 weeks).

For an employee to be eligible for PDL, their employer needs to have five or more employees. However, there is no required eligibility period.

If the requirement for the number of employees are met, an eligible CFRA employee can take a 12-week CFRA baby bonding leave. The first 12 weeks of PDL can run concurrently with FMLA for eligible employees, and for that period, their employer will need to continue providing employee health benefits.

2. Registered Domestic Partners Equal to Spouses:

The Family and Medical Leave Act does not consider registered domestic partners as spouses when applying for coverage to care for a family member.

However, under CFRA, registered domestic partners are covered as a spouse, which can give an employee additional family leave.

3. “Qualifying Exigency” Due To a Family Member’s Active Military Duty

Under FMLA, eligible employees are entitled to up to 12 weeks (4 months) of leave for “any qualifying exigency” arising because the employee has a family member (spouse, child, parent) who is on active military duty or who has been notified of an impending call to active duty status, in support of a contingency operation. This coverage includes health benefits.

There is no coverage for qualifying exigency under CFRA.

4. Care for Ill or Injured Service Member

Under FMLA, an employee who is the spouse, child, parent, or next of kin of a covered service member may take a total of 26 weeks (6.5 months) of leave during a 12-month period to care for a covered service member who is ill or injured in the line of duty on active duty. This coverage includes health benefits.

Alternately, CFRA only covers care of an injured service member if that person is a spouse, child, or parent—excluding next of kin.

What’s Considered a “Serious Health Condition”?

Just as important as knowing which family members you’re covered to care for under CFRA is an understanding of what constitutes a serious health condition, as described by the law.

In short, a CFRA considers a serious health condition to be an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that causes or requires:

  • Any period of incapacity or treatment in connection with, or after inpatient care.
  • Any period of incapacity requiring absence from work, school, or other regular daily activities, of more than 3 consecutive calendar days.
  • Ongoing treatment by or under the supervision of a health care provider for a chronic or long-term health condition that is incurable.
  • Restorative dental or plastic surgery after an accident or injury.

What isn’t considered a serious health condition under CFRA? That includes voluntary or cosmetic treatments—unless inpatient hospital care is required because of unexpected complications. Additionally, routine preventive physical examinations are excluded from coverage.