Family and Medical Leave in California

California employees are protected by a number of state leave laws, in addition to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

California has several laws that give employees the right to take leave—both paid and unpaid—for family and health reasons. Employees who are covered by more than one of these laws are entitled to the rights set out in the most protective law.

California employers must also comply with the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per 12-month period, with the right to reinstatement, for certain reasons.

Unpaid Family and Medical Leave Under the CFRA

California's Family Rights Act (CFRA) is essentially the state version of the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), although the CFRA applies to smaller employers and covers more family members than does the FMLA.

Under the CFRA, employers with five or more workers must provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave over a 12-month period for certain qualifying reasons. Those reasons include:

  • an employee's own serious health condition (other than pregnancy- or childbirth-related disability, discussed below)
  • an employee's need to care for a child, parent, spouse (including a registered domestic partner), grandparent, grandchildren, or sibling with a serious health condition
  • an employee's wish to bond with a new child within 12 months of birth, adoption, or foster care placement; nd
  • "qualifying exigency" military leave, for reasons including short notice deployment; military events and related activities; and spending time with a covered military member on short-term leave.

A serious health condition for purposes of family leave means an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that requires:

  • at-home care or in-patient care in a hospital, hospice, or residential medical care facility, or
  • continuing treatment by a physician or health care practitioner.

Employees are eligible for CFRA leave if they have more than 12 months of service and at least 1,250 hours of service over the previous 12 months.

Federal FMLA Rights

California employers must comply with the FMLA if they have at least 50 employees for at least 20 weeks in the current or previous year. Employees are eligible for FMLA leave if:

  • they have worked for the company for at least a year
  • they worked at least 1,250 hours during the previous year, and
  • they work at a location with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius.

Reasons for FMLA Leave

FMLA leave is available if an employee needs time off to:

  • bond with a new child
  • recuperate from a serious health condition
  • care for a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • handle qualifying exigencies arising out of a family member's military service, or
  • care for a family member who suffered a serious injury during active duty in the military.

You can find more information on these last two types of leave in Military Family Leave for Employees.

How Much FMLA Leave Is Available?

Employees in California may take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for a serious health condition, bonding with a new child, or qualifying exigencies. This leave renews every 12 months, as long as the employee continues to meet the eligibility requirements explained above.

Employees who need military caregiver leave may take up to 26 weeks of leave in a single 12-month period. However, this leave is a per-injury, per-service member entitlement. Unless the same family member is injured again, or another family member suffers an injury while on active duty, an employee may not take an additional leave for this purpose.

Leave and Reinstatement Rights

Employees are entitled to continue their health insurance while on leave, at the same cost they must pay while working. Although FMLA leave is unpaid, employees may be allowed (or required) to use their accrued paid leave during FMLA leave.

When an employee's FMLA leave ends, the employee is entitled to be reinstated to the same or an equivalent position, with a few exceptions.

Stacking CFRA and FMLA Leave

If employees qualify for leave under both the CFRA and FMLA, they ordinarily cannot stack the leave together to receive more than 12 weeks. However, if the worker qualifies only for CFRA leave and not FMLA leave (for example, to care for a grandparent, which is not covered by the FMLA), the worker could theoretically take up to 24 weeks or leave per 12-month stretch.

Paid Family Leave in California

California's paid family leave (PFL) program provides benefits to workers who need to take time off for any of the CFRA-qualifying reasons listed above.

PFL is administered by the State Disability Insurance (SDI) program. To be eligible for paid family leave, you need only have earned $300 from which SDI deductions were withheld during the past 12 months.

What Are My Benefits Under Paid Family Leave in California?

Eligible California workers are entitled to receive about 60-70% of their wages for up to eight weeks, with a maximum weekly benefit in 2021 of $1,357. Benefits are approximately 60% of an employee's salary for higher income earners and 70% for lower income earners.

You can calculate your paid family leave benefit amounts by going to California's Employment Development Department website, where you will also find a step-by-step guide for how to file a claim.

A properly completed claim typically takes about two weeks to be processed. (Note that you have 41 days after beginning leave to submit your claim, but you can't submit it before the first day of leave.)

Benefits can be taken all at once or split over a 12-month period. Employers may also allow you to use vacation time, sick leave, paid time off, or other leave to supplement your family leave benefits and receive up to 100% pay.

For more details about paid leave in California, consult these FAQs compiled by the Department of Industrial Relations.

To learn more, see our California Paid Family Leave FAQ.

California Military Family Leave

Employers with at least 25 employees must allow eligible employees to take up to ten days of unpaid leave while a spouse is on leave from deployment during a period of military conflict.

California Pregnancy Disability Leave

Employers with at least five employees must give employees a reasonable period of leave for disability relating to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. This period is not to exceed four months. Pregnancy disability leave doesn't count against an employee's leave entitlement under the California Family Rights Act.

California Small Necessities Law

Employers with at least 25 employees must give employees up to 40 hours of unpaid leave in any 12-month period, not to exceed eight hours in a single month, to participate in activities at a child's school or daycare.

California Domestic Violence Leave

All employers must allow employees to take unpaid leave to obtain a restraining order or seek other judicial relief from domestic violence for the employee or the employee's child. In addition, employers with at least 25 employees must allow employees who are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking to take time off to:

  • seek medical treatment
  • obtain services from a rape crisis center or domestic violence shelter or program
  • get counseling, or
  • engage in safety planning and/or relocate.

California Paid Temporary Disability Insurance

California has a state temporary disability insurance program, funded by withholding from employee paychecks. Eligible employees who are unable to work due to a temporary disability (including pregnancy) can receive from to 60% or 70% of their usual pay, depending on the employee's wages.

For More Information on California Family and Medical Leave

If you need to know more about California's leave laws, you can contact the state Department of Fair Housing and Employment.

Updated February 11, 2021

Get Professional Help
Talk to an Employment Rights attorney.
There was a problem with the submission. Please refresh the page and try again
Full Name is required
Email is required
Please enter a valid Email
Phone Number is required
Please enter a valid Phone Number
Zip Code is required
Please add a valid Zip Code
Please enter a valid Case Description
Description is required

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you