This year brought many new changes to state employment laws, and therefore many new requirements that employers had to meet. It is no exaggeration to say employers have had a lot on their plate in 2020, and it seems that employers can expect many more challenges in this coming year.

One of the most recent changes employers must understand is the new California Family Rights Act (CFRA).

Out with the old CFRA, and in with new rules

In September, Gov. Gavin Newsom officially passed a law that replaced the old CFRA and the California New Parent Leave Act with a new comprehensive version of the CFRA.

The new law will go into effect on January 1, 2021, and will:

  • Require employers with five or more employees to comply with the CFRA rules
  • Adjust and broaden employees’ eligibility to request leave under the CFRA
  • Allow employees to take time off:
    • For the birth of a child of the employee or the placement of a child with an employee in connection with the adoption or foster care of the child by the employee.
    • To care for a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or domestic partner who has a serious health condition.
    • Because of an employee’s own serious health condition.
    • Because of a qualifying exigency related to the covered active duty or call to covered active duty of an employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent in the Armed Forces of the United States.
  • Permit employees to take leave to care for more family members, including extended family

The CFRA provides for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.  However, many of the circumstances that justify leave under the CFRA also qualify an employee for benefits under the Paid Family Leave (PFL) law.  Employees must apply to the Employment Development Department for PFL benefits. The combination of the two laws may result in employees receiving at least partial pay for CFRA leave.

The new CFRA law offers some greater rights than the long-standing federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).  The FMLA applies to employers with fifty or more employees. For employers with fifty or more employees up to 24 weeks leave could be available in limited circumstances each year.

Employers must plan carefully

California employers must take great care to stay on top of these changes. In the coming months, there will be a few things employers must consider:

  1. As indicated above, employers must consider the requirements under both the new CFRA and the FMLA to avoid violating employee rights.
  2. Smaller business owners with less than 50 employees will now have to adhere to these rules, and they must prepare effectively and efficiently.
  3. Employers must make sure they adjust their policies and employee handbooks, as well as update employees about these changes.
  4. Employers should also keep careful records of requests and completed time off their employees take to ensure they comply with the law.

Violating this law could leave employers vulnerable to lawsuits, and potentially liable for reimbursing employees’ lost wages and benefits, as well as other damages. Therefore, employers must take time to align their policies with these new rules to avoid these potential issues and protect their business.