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FMLA and CFRA: What's the difference?

Life rarely goes as planned. Even when it does, certain events in your life require you to take a significant amount of time away from work. Faced with this prospect, you may begin to wonder whether your job will be there when you are ready to return to it.

Fortunately, the legislatures of both the federal government and the state of California understood that people must live their lives, and sometimes, that means not being able to work. The federal government responded to this need by enacting the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, and the state enacted the California Family Rights Act. Each act provides you with certain rights, but significant differences exist that you may want to be aware of if you need to take an extended absence from work.

The basics

Before discussing the differences between FMLA and CFRA, it may help to know the basic benefits offered to you under the acts. You may take 12 weeks of leave from your job without fear of losing your job for the following reasons:

  • You suffer from a serious health condition.
  • Your parent, spouse or child suffers from a serious health condition.
  • You recently adopted a child, had a child or a foster child was placed in your home.

One aspect of FMLA and CFRA that many people tend to misunderstand is the definition of a "serious health condition." For the purposes of taking this type of leave, the definition includes the following:

  • An injury or accident requires you or an eligible family member to receive restorative plastic surgery or dental work.
  • An illness or injury leaves you or an eligible family member incapacitated for at least three days.
  • You or an eligible family member end up incapacitated due to hospitalization.
  • Your incapacitation or that of a qualifying family member continues after release from inpatient care.
  • You or a qualifying family member requires ongoing care and treatment for an incurable and long-term health condition.

If your situation qualifies you for FMLA or CFRA, you may also continue to receive health insurance benefits paid for by your employer during your time away from work.

The differences

The differences between the two acts include the following:

  • FMLA allows you leave to care for an injured or ill service member who is a child, parent, spouse or other next of kin. CFRA restricts leave to just a child, parent or spouse.
  • FMLA considers pregnancy as a serious health condition. CFRA does not include pregnancy itself as a qualifying condition. However, leave may be available under the state's Pregnancy Disability Leave.
  • FMLA allows leave if a family member is, or is called to, activity duty military under certain conditions. CFRA does not cover this type of leave.
  • FMLA does not consider registered domestic partners as equal to spouses. CFRA does.

You may also be able to take advantage of California's Paid Family Leave, which would provide you with six weeks of paid leave if you qualify for this temporary disability insurance program.

The problem

Whether it's FMLA or CFRA, a great deal of confusion continues to exist regarding an employee's use of this type of leave. You may encounter resistance from your employer regarding taking this leave. The application process and requirements placed on you in order to qualify can be complex. If you find yourself in a position in which you need FMLA or CFRA leave, it may benefit you greatly to gain an understanding of your rights and assistance with obtaining the time off you need.

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