Medical Leave

California employees have the right to various forms of protected family and medical leave under state and federal laws that include the:

Both the FMLA and the CFRA provide employees with the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for a newborn biological child, a newly adopted child, a seriously ill family member, or a serious illness of their own.

Frequently Asked Questions About Medical Leave


The questions and answers presented in the FAQ are not intended to be exhaustive and do not constitute legal advice for your particular question, issue, or concern, nor does this FAQ create any attorney-client relationship or duty on our part to assist you. The information may help you think about your issues and ask the right questions if you choose to consult with an attorney.

My boss won’t let me come back after I took a medical leave. What should I do?

It is illegal for employers to retaliate against employees for taking a protected leave. If you believe you are being treated differently for taking a protected leave, you may want to contact an FMLA attorney.

Can my employer impose a limit on the amount of medical leave I can take?

An employer may impose a limit on the amount of medical leave an employee may take beyond the statutory minimum amounts of time. The employer may only impose such limits if the additional time would amount to an “undue hardship” on the employer, or if another accommodation would enable the employee to perform the essential functions of the position.

What if my leave of absence is contested by my employer?

Your employer may require that you provide a doctor’s note before approving the medical leave, but only if no such leave has previously been granted. In general, employers may not interfere with the employee’s rights on a practical level. Accordingly, an employer cannot characterize the leave as personal leave rather than medical leave. Generally, such claims do not require proof of discriminatory or retaliatory intent. You should consult with an FMLA attorney to determine what potential claims you may have.

Is medical leave itself a form of reasonable accommodation?

Medical leave for treatment, procedures, or recovery is a form of reasonable accommodation. If such leave is denied, you may have claims for disability discrimination as well as claims for interference. You should consult with an attorney to determine what potential claims you may have.

What is the difference between paid sick leave and FMLA/unpaid medical leave?

Paid sick leave provides employees with paid time off to recover from illness or injury, or to care for a sick family member. Unpaid medical leave is when an employee has to take time off due to illness or injury but does not receive any pay for that time.

What is the difference between short term disability leave and FMLA?

Short-term disability leave is a type of insurance policy that provides financial assistance to employees who are unable to work due to a medical illness or injury. The FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) is a federal law that requires employers to provide eligible employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons.

What do I need to tell my employer about my leave?

While the regulations implementing the FMLA provide that an employer can require an employee’s health care provider to provide a statement or description of appropriate medical facts regarding the employee’s health condition in connection with evaluating the applicability of the FMLA, this does not mean that the employer can ask you about the diagnosis. Nor do the regulations require that the health care provider provide the diagnosis. If the leave is associated with a disability, the ADA prohibits the employer from making any health or medical inquiries unless doing so is job-related and consistent with business necessity.

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 
  • They work at a location with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius

Reasons for FMLA Leave

Employees are entitled to FMLA leave if they need time off to:

  • Care for a newborn
  • Recover from a serious health condition
  • Take care of a spouse, child, or parent with a serious health condition
  • Manage family exigencies resulting from a military member’s service
  • Care for a family member who suffered a serious injury during active duty in the military

How Long is FMLA Leave?

In California, employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for a serious health condition, bonding with a new child, or qualifying circumstances. As long as the employee meets the eligibility requirements explained above, this leave is renewed every year.

Military caregivers may take up to 26 weeks of leave in a single 12-month period. However, this leave is on a per-injury and per-service member basis. Essentially, employees cannot take another leave of absence for this purpose unless a family member is injured again or a different family member suffers an injury while on active duty.

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA)

For California workers, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) will apply if:

  • You have worked for your employer for at least 1 year
  • You have worked for that employer for at least 1,250 hours in the past year
  • Your employer has at least 5 employees, which include remote employees

 California employment law also requires employers to provide other forms of employee leave:

  • Paid sick leave (some of which may be used to care for an ill family member)
  • Bereavement leave (when offered by company policy)
  • Alcohol and drug rehabilitation leave
  • Voting leave
  • Leave to serve on a jury or comply with a subpoena
  • Leave to obtain relief from domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking
  • Leave to receive literacy education
  • Leave for victims of crime
  • Leave to participate in children’s school activities

 California employers may NOT retaliate against employees who take the family, medical or other protected leave that is provided by law. And in most cases, they are required to reinstate you in your previous position when you return from leave.

Paid Family Leave (PFL) in California

Workers seeking time off for any of the above CFRA-qualifying reasons can get benefits through California’s paid family leave (PFL) program.

Those who qualify for PFL are covered through the State Disability Insurance (SDI) program. In order to qualify for paid family leave, you need only have earned $300 from which SDI deductions were withheld during the past 12 months.

Benefits Under California Paid Family Leave

Workers in California who qualify will receive approximately 60% of their salary for higher income earners and 70% for lower income earners.

California’s Employment Development Department website can help you calculate your paid family leave benefit amounts.

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

Examples of FMLA, CFRA, and PFL Violations

All employers subject to the FMLA, CFRA, and PFL must grant employees their requested leave. It is illegal for employers to terminate or otherwise discriminate against employees for taking a leave. Violations of FMLA, CFRA, and PFL rights include:

  • Termination of employment during the leave
  • Termination of employment after return to work
  • Pay cut or reassignment to a less desirable department or location
  • Denial of FMLA, CFRA, or PFL rights
  • Termination after complaints about violations

Termination and Discrimination After Return to Work

Some employers wait until after an employee returns to work before terminating him or her. Under FMLA/CFRA/PFL, an employee may have protection if termination is tied to taking the leave, and no other reason (such as poor performance) can be substantiated.

Contact Our California Medical Leave Lawyers for Help

Your employer cannot deny your right to take leave if you are entitled to it. If your rights to medical or family leave have been violated, our attorneys at Valerian Law can help. We encourage you to give us a call at 888-686-1918 to speak with one of our experienced California medical leave attorneys.

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