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What is the California Family Rights Act?

Table of Contents for Specific Topics

The California Family Rights Act, which is also referred to as CFRA or the Moore-Brown-Roberti Family Rights Act, is a state law that allows those eligible to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off of work due to certain personal situations and have their jobs protected. Situations covered by CFRA include major health concerns, a relative’s major health concern, circumstances surrounding a newly acquired child, or some situations involving a relative’s military service. In 2020, Governor Newsom signed Senate Bill 1383 which expanded the guidelines pertaining to what employers were bound by the law and what employees were protected by it.


California Family Rights Act Key Takeaways

  • Employers with 5 or more employees are bound by this law.
  • Employees are granted 12 weeks of job protected leave.
  • The leave is unpaid.
  • Leave may be granted for the following situations:
    • Bonding with a newborn child
    • Bonding with a newly adopted child
    • Bonding with a newly placed foster child
    • Tending to an ill family member
    • Serious personal health concern
    • Certain military exigencies
  • Leave may be granted to care for the following family members:
    • Spouse
    • Registered domestic partner
    • Child
    • Grandchild
    • Sibling
    • Parent
    • Grandparent
    • Specially designated person


What Employers Are Subject to CFRA?

Senate Bill 1383 was signed into law in September of 2020 and was first enacted in January of 2021. Prior to this bill, CFRA only covered employers with 50 or more employees within the same 75-mile radius. The law now covers:

  • All private employers who have 5 or more employees
  • All public employers
  • All state government employers
  • All political or civil employers


Who is Eligible for CFRA Coverage?

Similar to the Family Medical Leave Act, in order to be eligible for the California Family Rights Act protected leave, an employee must have:

  • Been employed by the present employer for at least 12 months before the beginning of the leave
  • Worked for the present employer for at least 1250 hours within the 12 months prior to the beginning of the leave


Recent Updates to CFRA Eligibility

In September of 2022, Governor Newsom signed AB 1041, effective January of 2023, which broadened the definition of ‘family member’ under CFRA by adding ‘designated person’ to the list of people an employee may take leave to care for. As society drifts further from the confines of the nuclear family structure and into more unique chosen families and household configurations, a designated person is any individual who shares a familial relationship with the employee. California employers are discouraged from restricting who may be categorized under this new term, however they are permitted to only allow leave for one designated person per year. This new addition to the definition of family member was applied to Labor Code 245.5(c) as well.


What Protections Does the CFRA Offer?

The CFRA allows for eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave within a 12 month period and have their job protected and their health insurance remain intact. Reasons that a person may take CFRA leave are:

  • The birth of a new child
  • The adoption of a new child
  • The placement of a new foster child
  • Military related qualifying exigency involving a partner, child, or parent
  • To tend to a family member suffering from a serious health condition
  • To tend to a personal serious health condition

A mental or physical illness, injury, or other condition may be considered a serious health condition if:

  • It involves incapacity due to inpatient care
  • It involves incapacity that results in more than 3 days in a row of absence from daily activities such as work or school
  • It is incurable and requires long term treatment
  • It involves restorative surgery after a disfiguring injury

Elective cosmetic surgery and routine doctor visits are not included in the definition of serious health conditions unless unforeseen complications result in inpatient care.

Prior to 2021, there was an age restriction of 18 or younger when considering the caretaking of a child. Now, the CFRA allows parents to take protected leave to tend to their adult children as well. The definition of family member was also extended to include in-laws and chosen family. The new adjustments also allow for the parents of a new child to both take leave even if they both work for the same employer.

Qualifying military exigencies may refer to:

  • Sudden deployment
  • Military related events
  • Childcare related arrangements
  • Mental health care
  • Other situations up to the discretion of the employer


Is My Job Protected?

When an employee takes CFRA leave, their job is almost always protected, and they should be able to return to their same position or one identical to it when they come back.

There are rare exceptions wherein a person may be denied reinstatement such as:

  • If they obtained their leave fraudulently
  • If they would have lost their job if they had not taken leave (such as mass layoffs)


Is CFRA Leave Paid?

Generally, while employers must continue an employee’s health insurance, CFRA leave is unpaid. However, there are some ways in which an employee may receive wage replacement such as:

  • State Disability Insurance
  • Paid Family Leave – 8 weeks of paid leave for:
    • Bonding with a new child
    • Tending to a partner, child, or parent with a serious health condition
    • Some military exigencies

There are some employers who may offer paid time off for certain situations, but this is optional. Some employees may also utilize paid time off such as sick pay or vacation time. Some employers may even insist that employees utilize that paid time off before taking leave. Companies will often outline such policies in their employee handbooks.


Do I Need a Doctor’s Note for Verification?

Employees should always provide their employer with documentation from a health care provider if the leave is due to a serious medical condition. Employees should also give their employer as much advanced notice as possible. It may also be necessary to send updates at reasonable intervals throughout the leave. Some employers may also require documentation from the health care provider that confirms that their employees are able to return to work at the end of leave. It is also advised to have proof that the employer was notified. Giving these notices via email is a good way to maintain a clear paper trail.

When taking leave to care for a family member, the documentation from the doctor should include:

  • The date that the condition began
  • The length of time that the condition will continue
  • The length of time that the employee will need away from work
  • Confirmation that the health condition requires a family member such as the employee to provide assistance

When taking leave to care for a personal condition, the documentation from the doctor should include:

  • The date that the condition began
  • The length of time that the condition will continue
  • Confirmation that the health condition prevents the employee from being able to perform their job duties

If an employer does not believe the documentation provided, they may require a second opinion obtained at the employer’s expense.


Comparing CFRA to FMLA

There are many similarities and differences between FMLA and CFRA. FMLA is a federal statute whereas CFRA is state law. They also define family members differently and have different qualifications for serious health conditions. There are also some past similarities and differences that have changed as the individual acts have been amended over time.


  • Provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave
  • Health insurance benefits and coverage must be maintained by the employer throughout the duration of the leave
  • The employee’s job is protected, and they must be reinstated to the same position they were in before they left or one that is identical or nearly identical to it
  • The employer may require a note from the health care provider verifying the duration and necessity of the leave, including updates sent at reasonable intervals
  • Employees may decide or be required to utilize paid time off to supplement their leave
  • Allows leave to bond with a new child, leave due to personal illness, and leave to care for ill family member
  • Thanks to SB 1383, now both CFRA and FMLA cover military exigencies


Does CFRA Run Concurrently With FMLA?

FMLA is similar to CFRA and exists for the same purpose.

FMLA provides 12 weeks of unpaid job protected leave under the following qualifications:

  • The employee works for a private employer who has 50 or more employees
  • The employee works for a state or federal employer
  • The employee has worked for the employer for 12 or more months prior to the date the leave begins
  • The employee has worked for the employer for 1250 or more hours in the 12 months prior to the date the leave begins

When an employee qualifies for both FMLA and CFRA, their leave runs concurrently for the 12 weeks.


Primary Differences Between FMLA and CFRA

Family and Medical Leave Act:

  • Federal law
  • Applies to employers with 50 or more employees
  • Pregnancy is considered a serious health condition
  • Family members covered are spouse, children, and parents
  • There is a cap on damages in related lawsuits
  • Employees can not claim for emotional distress in related lawsuits

California Family Rights Act:

  • California State law
  • Applies to employers with 5 or more employees
  • Pregnancy is not considered a serious health condition
  • Family members covered includes extended and chosen family
  • There is no cap on damages in related lawsuits
  • Employees can claim for emotional distress in related lawsuits


Can an Employer Deny CFRA Leave?

Employers are not legally permitted to deny an employee’s right to CFRA leave. Unfortunately, many employers still attempt to do so. When this happens, employees are advised to stand their ground. Make a formal written complaint via email to the human resources department or whomever is in charge of such matters. Explain the situation, include documentation from the doctor, and specify that the leave of absence is necessary to tend to your own or family member’s health. If the employer continues to refuse to allow the leave, it may be best to contact an attorney for further advice. In some situations, it may be recommended that you send another email, again with documentation attached, explaining that you will be going on leave and will be returning on the specified date. It is usually advised that you do not resign from your job. Go on your leave but specify that you will return. If your employer then terminates your employment, you may be able to take further legal action.


Can an Employer Punish an Employee for Exercising CFRA Rights?

Employers are not legally permitted to prevent, punish, or retaliate against employees for exercising their rights. In the state of California, covered employees have the right to:

  • Request time off for CFRA leave
  • Take time off for CFRA leave
  • Participate in legal investigations regarding CFRA rights violations

Some ways that an employer might retaliate against an employee for exercising those rights include but are not limited to:

  • Cutting hours
  • Demotions or pay cuts
  • Refusing promotions or opportunities
  • Harassment or unwarranted reprimands
  • Termination


What if an Employer Violates My CFRA Rights?

If an employer violates an employee’s rights under CFRA, that employee may be able to take legal action against them. Such violations include:

  • Refusing to allow an employee to go on leave
  • Refusing to allow an employee to return from leave
  • Retaliating against an employee for taking leave

When this happens, the employee may contact the state Civil Rights Department and file a formal complaint. At that point, the CRD will investigate the claim and do what they can to try to resolve the matter. If a resolution can not be reached, they may issue the employee a right to sue letter. At that point, the employee may obtain an employment lawyer and file a lawsuit.


How to Report a CFRA Violation?

When submitting a claim to the CRD, it is important to be as detailed and precise as possible. Provide a timeline of when, how, and why you exercised your rights; and when, how, and why those rights were violated. Documentation evidence and witnesses can also be very helpful in proving a claim. Keeping track of all of these things will also be important if and when you need to file a lawsuit.


Statute of Limitations for Filing a CFRA Violation

As with all legal matters, time is of the essence due to the statute of limitations in place. When a CFRA violation occurs, the employee has one year from the date of the violation in which to obtain a right to sue letter from the CRD. Once the letter is obtained, the employee has one year from the date the letter was issued in which to file a lawsuit.


Remedies for a CFRA Violation

There are many damages that a person might be able to claim due to a CFRA violation, including but not limited to:

  • Back Pay – Some people may be given reduced hours, demoted, or even fired in retaliation for taking leave. In these cases, the employee may sue for the money they would have earned if this had not happened.
  • Emotional Distress – Being denied or punished for taking leave to bond with a new child, take care of a sick relative, or tend to your own illness can be devastating. Some people may seek compensation for the stress and grief caused by the experience.
  • Fees – Things like administrative and attorney’s fees may be added to the total amount that a defendant will be asked to compensate.
  • Punitive Damages – In cases where a defendant is proven to have acted with fraud, malice, or oppression, the court may deem it necessary to order them to pay punitive damages as a way to punish them and deter similar behavior in the future.
  • Reinstatement – Though some people may not want to return to an employer who treated them so poorly, some people just want their jobs back.


Contact Mesriani Law Group if Your CFRA Rights Have Been Violated

Eligible employees have the right to take leave outlined by the CFRA. Employers are not legally permitted to deny that leave, or retaliate against employees for taking it. Unfortunately, some employers may disregard the law. When this happens, it may be necessary to seek legal assistance. Our employment attorneys are experienced, hardworking, and dedicated to helping our clients through their difficult time and getting them the compensation they deserve. If your employer has violated your CFRA rights, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.



Who is eligible for California family Rights Act?

When an employer has five or more employees, they are bound by CFRA leave laws. Said employees are eligible for CFRA leave if they have been working for the employer for no less than twelve months prior to the start date of the leave. They also must have worked no less than 1250 hours within the twelve months prior to the start date of the leave.

Is CFRA and FMLA the same thing?

CFRA and FMLA are two different things that serve the same purpose. FMLA is federally based, covers pregnancy as a medical condition, and covers a narrower range of family members than CFRA. FMLA also covers employers with 50 or more employees whereas CFRA covers employers with 5 or more employees.

Do you get paid for California family Rights Act?

CFRA is unpaid leave that protects an employee’s job and health benefits. However, the state of California has additional programs such as disability insurance and paid family leave that may help an employee supplement their income depending on their specific situation and reason for being out of work. Individual employers may also have policies regarding paid time off for employees.

When can I apply for CFRA?

The circumstances under which a person may request CFRA leave include bonding with a new child, tending to a sick or injured relative, or healing from a personal illness or injury. When taking leave to bond with a new child, the leave must be taken within one year of the acquisition of that child.

About the Author
Picture of Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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