Brief Guide to the California Family Rights Act (CFRA)

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If you live in California, you’ve probably heard of the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). CFRA authorizes eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. The CFRA echoes the same sentiment as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), with a few recent adjustments to be aware of. We’ve put together a digestible guide to help employees and employers understand the ins and outs of their obligations and rights.

What is the California Family Rights Act?

The CFRA requires covered employers with 5 or more full-time or part-time employees in the USA to provide eligible employees with unpaid, job-protected leave of up to 12 weeks over 12 months from a qualifying event. To be “eligible,” employees must have worked for the company for more than 12 months and 1250 hours during the previous 12-month period.

CFRA leave is unpaid, but employees keep the same health benefits provided by the business. Employees may be eligible to receive wage replacement benefits under California’s State Disability Insurance (SDI) or Paid Family Leave (PFL) programs. Employees who take CFRA leave are entitled to the same position when they return to work. If the job has been filled or a restructure has occurred, they’re entitled to be reinstated to a comparable role.

What are the most notable changes to CFRA in 2021?

On January 1, 2021, various adjustments to CFRA under SB 1383 came into effect. The most notable change is CFRA’s expanded reach to cover employers of five or more employees. Initially, the only “covered employers” were those with 50 or more employees like the FMLA. Smaller employers will now be required to provide job-protected family and medical leave.

Additional changes to CFRA include expanding qualifying reasons for family care leave to account for more types of family members. This includes the addition of a “Qualifying exigency” leave which employees can take to manage their affairs when their family members are on or called to active duty. While it’s already a qualifying reason for leave under the federally mandated FMLA, CFRA now officially recognizes it with these adjustments.

What are the rules and requirements for CFRA?


Eligible employees include those who have worked for covered employers for at least 12 months and 1250 hours over the last 12 months. Employees need to be clear about the reason for their leave so the employer can determine if the request meets CFRA-qualifying requirements.

Eligible employees may take leave on an intermittent basis, meaning that it doesn’t need to be continuous. While most employers require 30-days advance notice, sometimes this is not possible. In this case, employees should give notice as promptly as they can.

Employers are not required to pay employees during CFRA leave, but they may require or allow employees to use accrued vacation or sick leave.


All employers should familiarize themselves with the updated CFRA’s regulations, ensuring that their employees understand all the rules and requirements. It’s essential to update leave policies, ensuring they’re compliant. Managers need to be aware of regulations once employees submit leave requests. Employers must respond to any request within five days.

If an employer would like written confirmation from a healthcare provider for the leave request, they must inform the employee and provide no less than 15 calendar days of their certification request, unless it is not practical for the employee despite their efforts.

Top Tip:

Manage your leave effectively with Sparrow, keeping everything above board for both employee and employer.

Covered Conditions and Events

Under CFRA, eligible employees may take leave for the following reasons:

  • To bond with a new child (including adoption or fostering). Unlike FMLA, CFRA does not consider pregnancy or childbirth a Serious Health Condition (SHC). This is covered separately by California’s Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL).
  • To care for an immediate family member with an SHC. Family members now include grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings in addition to parents, children, spouses, and registered domestic partners.
  • When the employee is unable to work due to an SHC (illness, injury, or impairment).
  • To participate in a qualifying event because of a family member’s military deployment to a foreign country.

What are the differences between FMLA and CFRA?

1. The definition of pregnancy

FMLA defines pregnancy as a Serious Health Condition. CFRA does not. Instead, a pregnant employee is entitled to a Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) of up to four months (17.3 weeks). In contrast to FMLA, birthing caregivers would utilize PDL first and then take CFRA leave once the disability period is exhausted.

2. Expanded definition of covered family members

FMLA covers an employee’s spouse, including those in same-sex marriages, a child (minor or dependent adult), or a parent. CFRA covers an employee’s spouse (including same-sex marriages), registered domestic partners, a child of any age, the child of a domestic partner, a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, or a grandchild.

3. “Qualifying exigency” due to active military duty

Eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave for any qualifying exigency under FMLA. As of January 1, 2021, this is also covered by CFRA if the service member is a spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent.

4. Care for an ill or injured service member

FMLA covers caregiver leave if an employee’s spouse, child, parent, or next of kin is a covered service member. Health benefits are included and eligible employees may take up to 26 weeks of leave over 12 months. While CFRA does not explicitly specify care for ill or injured service members, CFRA does provide 12 weeks of leave for eligible employees to care for family members that have a SHC.

5. Medical Diagnosis

An employer may require employees to provide a medical certification that includes a description of appropriate medical facts regarding the patient’s health condition, i.e. symptoms, a diagnosis, etc., to support a leave claim under FMLA. Meanwhile for CFRA, employers cannot ask for this but employees can provide it at their own discretion.

6. Employer Coverage

In the past, both FMLA and CFRA had the same requirements for coverage. Employers had to have 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius. While this still applies to FMLA, CFRA has been updated in 2021 to apply to businesses with 5 or more employees and the 75-mile radius requirement has been removed.

Due to the differences above, CFRA does not always run concurrently with FMLA leave. Employees may be eligible for as much as 29.3 weeks under PDL, CFRA and FMLA.

What to know about coming back to work from a CFRA-covered leave

When returning to work, employees are guaranteed the same job position. If the same position is no longer available, the employer must offer a comparable position in terms of pay, location, job content, and promotional opportunities.


As an employer or employee in California, familiarizing yourself with CFRA is a priority. With the most adjustments coming into effect recently, it’s crucial to ensure all policies are compliant and up to date. If employers and employees newly qualify for CFRA leave, it’s important to understand the rules and regulations. As you navigate your way through the legislation, let Sparrow alleviate any uncertainty.