There are numerous reasons why you may need to take an extended leave from work: the birth of a child, military service, dealing with your own illness or caring for a family member who has a serious health condition or serving as a juror. Regardless of the reason for taking a leave of absence, you’ll want to know what you should do to ensure that your employment is protected.
It is important to understand what your rights are under state and federal law, like California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)t, as well as the Family & Medical Leave (FMLA) to ensure that your employer approves your request. There are various types of leave that you may be entitled to, and all leaves have different eligibility requirements and afford different leave rights. Some leaves may run concurrently and some leaves may be consecutive. It is important that you understand your leave rights and that you follow the appropriate company procedures to ensure your leave is granted. Keep the following six steps in mind prior to taking a leave of absence.
1. UNDERSTAND YOUR LEAVE OF ABSENCE RIGHTS
California has numerous labor and employment regulations that far exceed those mandated at the federal level. The list below touches upon some of the most common types of leave in California.
Medical Leave: The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) closely resembles FMLA and also requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide an employee up to 12 weeks of medical leave per calendar year for the employee’s own serious health condition, for baby bonding, or to care for a family member who has a serious health condition. Although CFRA and FMLA often overlap so that the two leaves run concurrently, there are significant differences where the two leaves do not run concurrently. Accordingly, a pregnant employee in California can take 12 weeks of leave under FMLA for pregnancy-related conditions, and then an additional 12 weeks of protected leave under CFRA after the baby is born for bonding.
Pregnancy Disability: Applies to employers with five or more employees and provides up to four months of protected leave, running concurrently with FMLA but not CFRA.
Military Leave: There are a number of laws providing military leave rights and benefits to California’s private employees, including leave for training. Employers must grant up to 17 days of temporary, unpaid leave per year to employees in the U.S. reserves, National Guard, or naval militia who are called to engage in drills, training, encampment, naval cruises, special exercises, or like activities. The 17-day period includes the time required to travel to and from duty (CA Mil. and Vet. Code Sec. 394.5). California Military Code §395.10 requires employers with 25 or more employees to provide up to 10 days of unpaid, job-protected leave to a spouse or domestic partner of a member of the armed forces who has been deployed during a period of military conflict and who is home on leave.
School and Child Care Leave: Applies to employers with 25 or more employees and provides eligible employees with up to 40 hours of leave per year to participate in certain school and childcare-related issues, including enrollment, school activities, and emergencies.
Disability Leave: The California Fair Employment and Housing Act requires employers of five or more employees to provide reasonable accommodation for individuals with a physical or mental disability to perform the essential functions of their jobs unless it would cause an undue hardship. Reasonable accommodation includes a finite leave of absence that would enable the employee to return to work at the end of the leave. This disability leave may be longer than the leave afforded under the CFRA or FMLA.
Jury Duty: An employer shall not discharge or in any manner discriminate against an employee for taking time off to serve as required by law on an inquest jury or trial jury, if the employee, prior to taking the time off, gives reasonable notice to the employer that the employee is required to serve.
Voting: If a voter does not have sufficient time outside of working hours to vote at a statewide election, the voter may, without loss of pay, take off enough working time that, when added to the voting time available outside of working hours, will enable the voter to vote. No more than two hours of the time taken off for voting shall be without loss of pay. The time off for voting shall be only at the beginning or end of the regular working shift, whichever allows the most free time for voting and the least time off from the regular working shift, unless otherwise mutually agreed. If the employee on the third working day prior to the day of the election, knows or has reason to believe that time off will be necessary to be able to vote on election day, the employee shall give the employer at least two working days’ notice that time off for voting is desired.
2. KNOW YOUR COMPANY POLICY ON LEAVE
Each leave of absence has different eligibility requirements and different leave entitlements. It is important that you review your company’s policies relating to each leave to ensure (1) that you are eligible for the leave you need; (2) provide the necessary notice to your employer for the particular leave you need; (3) fill out the necessary paperwork or submit the appropriate medical certifications to support your need for leave; (4) to ensure that you do not exceed the leave you may take; and (5) to understand your job protection and reinstatement rights.
3. FOLLOW THE PROCEDURES ESTABLISHED BY YOUR COMPANY AND NOTIFY THE APPROPRIATE INDIVIDUALS
Whether your immediate supervisor is going to be the one making the final decision or not (and they likely won’t be), start by telling him or her that you’re planning on taking leave. Documenting your request, such as in an email, is a good idea. Follow the company’s procedures regarding providing notice to your employer and filling out the appropriate paperwork to ensure your employer does not reject your request based on your failure to follow procedures. Give them as much lead time as possible, so they can adjust the company work schedule or labor requirements. Keep the direct lines of communication open among the people directly involved in making decisions.
4. CONSULT WITH YOUR HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT
HR is just that – a resource for the humans working at your company. Use it to your advantage. Ask questions, and get the information you need from HR to ensure you do all the company requires of you to get the leave you are eligible for. The various types of leave have different eligibility requirements, provide various durations of leave, and offer different job protection. They can be complicated to figure out, so use your HR department to your advantage.
Taking a leave of absence is something you will likely have to face at some point in your working career, but it doesn’t have to be daunting, and it doesn’t have to break you financially. There are many types of leave that you may be entitled to in addition to those discussed here. If you feel you are entitled to a leave of absence or time away from work and have been denied or you feel you’ve been discriminated against due to the fact that you’ve asked for time away from work, your rights may have been violated. Consult with an experienced employment law attorney today to ensure you receive fair and equitable treatment at work.