WASHINGTON - The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in California is in the spotlight as a handful of lawmakers hope to use some aspects of the state statute it to pass a federal FMLA bill under the new administration.
If a federal Family Medical Leave Act passes, workers will be allotted 12 weeks of paid leave for pregnancy. The same will apply for the birth of a child, an adoption, employees who are recuperating from a serious sickness, and those who are the caretakers for a family member who is seriously ill.
This is comparable to laws in California and New Jersey and will be a change from the federal FMLA that is in place. The current law permits employees take time off but it is unpaid. It also requires workers to be with their employer for at least 12 months and to have worked at least 1,250 hours the year before to receive coverage under the FMLA as well as the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).
This isn’t the first time this bill has been brought before Congress. The two chambers discussed the measure in 2013 and decided not to pass it. Things are different this time around as 113 co-sponsors including Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), who brought the bill before the House, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who reintroduced it before the U.S. Senate, have backed the bill.
“As with most federal laws, the FMLA has both its pros and cons,” Emily Knoles, an associate at Polsinelli Law Firm who specializes in labor and employment laws told the Northern California Record. “The proposed changes mirror to some extent the California Paid Family Act (PFL). Similar to the funding for the PFL, the new FMLA proposed funding would likely also come entirely from employee payroll tax contributions, which are then available to the employee should they need to use it. It is basically a ‘bank account’ that you fund in case you need to take leave in the future.”
As for who benefits from the act, Knoles said both the employee and employer can have an advantage.
“It takes the stress and anxiety off the employee as they take leave for already stressful reasons and should allow the employee to be more productive while they are at work," she said. "The birth of a child or serious illness of an employee should not immediately jeopardize an employee’s job and by creating space for a supportive work environment to take that leave, ultimately employees tend to be more productive and loyal to their company.”
She added that no one wins when there are “cases of abuse of FMLA protection.”
As for what employees and employers can do if the federal FMLA is passed, Knoles advises that both parties stay knowledgeable about their rights and responsibilities.
“Most are required to be placed in a visible place in the work environment," she said. "The Department of Labor will post changes that are approved. However, until the law is put into effect tracking its progress can be done through labor law updates available through various resources. Employers concerned about upcoming changes and their obligations should reach out to their employment counsel.”
One California worker, Marthina Taylor, has already taken legal action against her employer, Northern Inyo Hospital. She alleges the hospital did not uphold the FMLA or CFRA after she underwent surgery. She took a leave but says her workload didn’t decrease as she had requested once she returned to work under the CFRA, the California Labor Law News reported.
Her physician gave her the green light to work but she was given certain limitations that she says were not taken into consideration. Taylor alleges she ended up hurting herself again and adds in her complaint that her supervisor said they could not accommodate the changes she said she needed to work effectively.
Knoles said the lawsuit will be going to trial this July.