California Expands Family Leave Law to Apply to More Small Businesses

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, our clients and employers across the nation have had to learn a tremendous amount of new employment law requirements rapidly while addressing evolving workplace safety issues and a reimagined workplace.

Legislation that was recently signed into law by Governor Newsom means that more California employers will now be required to comply with the California Family Rights Act and allow their employees to take leave to care for their own serious health condition or that of a family member, as well as to bond with a new child—without forfeiting their job.

Senate Bill 1383 is designed to dramatically expand the CFRA, and this will affect many California small and medium-size business owners and their employees. The Governor says that nearly six million additional Californians will have access to job-protected paid family leave when the new law goes into effect on January 1, 2021.

What’s the Law’s Impacts on California Small and Medium Size Businesses?

The new law expands the CFRA to apply to any California employer who has five or more employees. That’s much less than the previous threshold of 50+ employees for private employers within 75 miles of the work location and any size public employer. The new law eliminates the 75-mile worksite proximity requirement.

The CFRA requires that covered employers (now those with five or more employees) provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during each 12-month period for family and medical leave.

Plus, the law expands the definition of “family members” to include not just a child, parent, or spouse, but now also grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and domestic partners. An employee can also take leave to care for themselves under the law.

Isn’t This Just Like the Federal FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act)?

No. The new law is different than the FMLA. With the old CFRA, similar to the FMLA, the leave provisions applied only to dependent children, children under 18, a parent, or spouse.

Since CFRA leave was the same as FMLA leave, the two ran concurrently, and employees taking family leave could take a total of 12 weeks. 

With the new law, an employee again can take leave not just to care for a parent or spouse, but also to care for a grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or domestic partner. But leave taken to care for a person in one of these new categories isn’t covered by FMLA. This means that an employee could take 12 weeks of FMLA leave to care for a child or spouse… and then take another 12 weeks of leave under the CFRA to care for a sick grandparent or sibling. And since both leaves are protected, the employee would be able to get their job back when they returned from the leave which might extend to six months (24 weeks).

Employers should note that while that leave is unpaid, the employer must still provide health insurance benefits to the employee during the leave.

Do I Now Have to Publish an Employee Handbook?

No, state law doesn’t require that an employer publish an employee handbook.

However, state regulations under the CFRA say that if a covered employer (one with five or more employees) does publish an employee handbook that describes other kinds of personal or disability leaves available to employees, it has to include a description of the CFRA leave in it. 

As a result, if your business has an employee handbook that doesn’t currently address the CFRA, you must incorporate a CFRA policy as part of an update for 2021. Those California employers with an existing CFRA policy in their employee handbooks should redraft the policy to reflect the changes that go into effect on January 1, 2021.

In addition, covered employers should revise their leave administration procedures and any administrative leave forms to include the changes in Senate Bill 1383.

Additionally, employers should consider conducting training on the revised CFRA’s requirements—especially for human resources and management personnel.

Takeaway

Small businesses that are now required for the first time to record and monitor protected leaves shouldn’t underestimate the time and effort that will be required to comply with these new obligations.

Again, beginning on January 1st, the CFRA will apply to many more smaller companies in the state. As a result, it’s imperative that California business owners understand the changes to the CFRA and how family and medical leave law will now apply to their business.

If you’re a California business owner and employ at least five workers, you have only a few months to get ready for these changes. And make no mistake, the effect on small California businesses is likely to be considerable.

Contact Eanet, PC at (310) 997-4185 to learn more about the changes to the CFRA and the effect it may have on your business. Our law firm provides guidance on how to incorporate the new law into employee handbooks, update leave procedures, and creates customized employment policies. Our experienced California employment law attorneys can help your business with all your employment issues and questions.

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