California Leave of Absence - Why Employers Must Understand Compliance

California leaves of Absence - Why should employers with California-based employees be aware of the laws that regulate leaves of absence? Why should you know how to respond to an employee requesting and/or taking a leave of absence? Well, dealing with leave of absence is an inevitable part of being in a leadership role. Liability costs for non-compliance can be staggering. Just as important is the cost of damaged employee relations and engagement as well as external organizational reputation.

"A leave of absence (LOA) is unpaid leave that allows an employee to be off work for an extended period of time and return to his/her former position when the leave ends. The criteria for granting an unpaid LOA are stated in California Department of Human Resources (CalHR) Rule 599.781 and in the Memoranda of Understanding (MOU)."
-(DGS Office of Human Resources).

California Leaves of Absence


You have a team member who handles most of your company's accounts. As his manager, you depend on him to get most of your team's job done. Unfortunately, a member of his family suddenly falls very ill and he needs to take some time off from work.

While your team member is away, you call him over the phone or send emails stating that his work is piling up. You tell him that his colleagues are struggling with the extra workload. You also tell him that you may have to hire a replacement. As the pressure continues to mount, you become vulnerable to a possible violation of employee rights. The team member might be forced to seek the help of an Employment Attorney and pursue a case against the employer.

Although the above scenario may apply to other states, in this article we apply it to the state of California. There are laws in the state of California that govern which type of leaves are legal for taking a leave of absence. These laws prohibit employers from terminating the employee and regulate how an employee must respond to protected leaves.

The Laws

'FMLA is a federal law that permits employees to take a maximum of 12 workweeks (or 26 for military caregiver leave) of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for: an employee's own serious health condition; care of a spouse, child, and parent with a serious health condition; to bond with a newborn or newly placed child under adoption or foster care; and for qualifying military reasons.

CFRA is a California State law that permits employees to take a maximum of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period for: an employee's own serious health condition (does not cover pregnancy disability); care of a spouse, domestic partner, child, and parent with a serious health condition; and to bond with a newborn or newly placed child under adoption or foster care. CFRA runs concurrently with FMLA if the employee meets the requirements for both benefits.

PDL is a California State law that permits employees to take a maximum of 4 months (17.333 workweeks) of unpaid leave for pregnancy disability per pregnancy. PDL runs concurrently with FMLA (if eligible) for prenatal care, childbirth recovery, or related medical condition.'

Abuse and Fraud of Protected Leaves are Rampant

Some employers struggle with abuse and fraud of protected leaves of absence. For example, there are situations where real, approved, FMLA leaves are used for non-FMLA purposes. Also, the medical condition in question has been misrepresented to the employer or medical professional by some employees by altering the medical documentation. Understanding LOA compliance will help employers deal with such abuse and fraud of protected leaves.

The Business Interests

Many employers feel uncertain about how they can avoid complex leave of absence issues while protecting their own financial and business needs. The overlap between pieces of legislation is often confusing and seemingly complicated. All three pieces of legislation provide ways in which an employer can identify an employee's need for leave while vigilantly remaining alert to potential leave abuse. Understanding these regulations can help employers gain more confidence in dealing with LOA issues and protect business interests.

Leave of Absence

You will do well to understand the leave required by the law and the optional leave that you can provide to your employees because different types of leaves can interact with each other.

  • COVID-19: Federal, State and Local Leave Issues
  • Family and Medical Leave
  • Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL)
  • Paid Family Leave (PFL)
  • Paid Sick Leave (PSL)
  • Vacation, Paid Time Off and Holidays
  • Organ and Bone Marrow Donor Leave
  • Crime Victim's Leave
  • Crime or Abuse Victims' Leave
  • Jury Duty or Witness Duty Leave
  • Military Service Leave
  • School Appearance and Activity Leave
  • Volunteer Civil Service Leave
  • Voting Leave
  • Other optional leaves that help employers respond to employees needs and
    • Extended Disability Leave
    • Bereavement Leave
    • Personal Leaves of Absence
    • Unpaid Personal Leave
    • Education Leave
    • Sabbatical

Protected Leave of Absence in the State of California

An employee can take leave to:

  • Care for a spouse, parent, or child who is severely ill
  • Recover from his/her own serious injury or illness
  • Spend time with his/her newborn
  • Resolve nonmedical issues related to a family member in the military
  • Care for an immediate family member who became seriously injured or ill due to military service
  • Take care of herself due to pregnancy or childbirth complications
  • Attend school activities of his/her child
  • Care for self after a domestic violence incident

How can you continue to keep yourself up-to-date with the Regulations that govern California leave of absence?

You can stay on top of regulatory compliance by attending our relevant training, webinars, and seminars. Browse our HR Regulatory Compliance Training page to enroll for training.