Making sense of California’s new definition of “Family Member”

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California has expanded its definition of “family member” under California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and California’s Healthy Workplaces Healthy Families Act (HWHFA). Sparrow’s Legal and Compliance summarizes how this might affect your company’s leave administration.


CFRA and State Paid Sick Leave Law expands definition of “family member”

Beginning January 1, 2023, the definition of a “family member” under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) and California’s Healthy Workplaces Healthy Families Act (HWHFA), which is California’s paid sick leave law, will expand to include a “designated person.” See A.B. 1041. Under both the amended CFRA and HWHFA, employees may identify a designated person for whom they want to use leave when they request unpaid (CFRA) or paid (HWHFA) leave. Employers also may limit an employee to one designated person per 12-month period.

Notably, the two amended laws do not define “designated person” identically. Under the CFRA, a designated person means “any individual related by blood or whose association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.” However, Under the HWHFA, a designated person is “a person identified by the employee at the time the employee requests paid sick days” – the person need not be related by blood to the employee or someone equivalent to a family relation.

What this means for leave compliance and coordination of laws (CFRA + FMLA)

CFRA’s definition of “family member” is broader than that of its federal counterpart, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For example, though both the FMLA and CFRA consider a child, parent, and spouse to be a family member, the CFRA also includes a domestic partner, grandchild, grandparent, and sibling in this cohort. The addition of a designated person to the CFRA’s “family member” definition will create even more space between it and the FMLA, and thus more instances in which the two laws do not run concurrently. This means an employee could be on leave for a substantial period of time during a 12-month period for family caregiving but for different family members (e.g., their designated person and, later, their spouse), and have job protections during each lengthy absence. As leave management in California becomes more complicated, the importance of accurately tracking how much job-protected unpaid family medical leave your employees can use and/or have used during the relevant 12-month period takes on greater importance.

Relation to Paid Family Leave and payroll administration

Like the CFRA, California’s Paid Family Leave program (PFL) allows eligible individuals to receive PFL wage replacement benefits from the state when they need to care for a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or domestic partner who has a serious health condition. Unlike the CFRA, however, PFL has not been updated to include a designated person as a qualifying family member. As a result, if an employee uses their CFRA leave to care for a designated person, they will not be eligible for PFL benefits and their absence will be unpaid unless an employer voluntarily provides a paid family medical benefit that allows employees to use leave for the designated person, or an employee uses accrued paid time off, such as vacation, PTO or (if employer agrees) sick leave.

Impact on coordination of paid sick leave and CFRA leave

As a reminder, employees may apply accrued sick leave to a CFRA leave of absence if their employer agrees - something that typically is addressed in the employer’s CFRA policy. Because the amended CFRA’s definition of a designated person is more narrow than the amended HWHFA’s definition, California employees should be able to apply their accrued sick leave to any caregiver leave of absence taken under the CFRA. This is because if an employee designates someone the CFRA doesn’t recognize as a family member even though the HWHFA does, the employee will not be eligible for job-protected CFRA leave in the first place.

This is an active time for leave-related legislation. Each year, many states, like California, review and revise their legislation to make it more accessible. If your team is managing leave in multiple states, staying abreast of these frequent changes can be a struggle. Outsourcing your company’s employee leave to Sparrow, the first true end-to-end leave management provider for modern employers, can provide you with confidence in your leave compliance.