Governor Newsom has signed Senate Bill (SB) 1383 to significantly expand the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).  The CFRA is California’s counterpart to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and provides unpaid family and medical leave of up to 12 weeks for eligible employees.  The new law’s key revisions are summarized below and take effect on January 1, 2021.

More CFRA Coverage and Uses

The most significant change under SB 1383 is the expansion of CFRA coverage to employers with just five employees, rather than the 50 employees required under existing law.  Also, because CFRA coverage has been extended to small employers, the law repeals the New Parent Leave Act, which took effect in 2018, requiring employers with 20-49 employees to provide CFRA-like baby bonding leave.

Additionally, SB 1383 eliminates the requirement that employees must work at a worksite with 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius to be eligible for CFRA leave.  Thus, going forward, California employees at small worksites or who are the only ones at their worksite (such as remote workers) will be eligible for CFRA leave so long as they have worked for the employer for at least 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12-month period prior to the leave.

SB 1383 also expands the reasons for which employees may use CFRA leave.  Under existing CFRA provisions, employees are allowed to use CFRA leave to care for an employee’s parent, spouse, child, or registered domestic partner who has a serious health condition.  SB 1383 expands leave rights by also allowing CFRA leave for the care of grandparent, grandchild, or sibling with a serious health condition.  The law further clarifies that child includes the child of a domestic partner, and removes a restriction providing that leave could be used for a dependent child over age 18 only if that child was incapable of self-care due to a disability.

The law also borrows a provision from the FMLA to add a new CFRA right for military “qualifying exigency” leave.  Eligible employees will now be able to use available CFRA leave for a qualifying exigency related to the covered active duty or call to covered active duty of an employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent in the United States Armed Forces.

Finally, SB 1383 removes two CFRA provisions that limited employee leave rights.  First, the new law eliminates the option for employers to cap CFRA leave for new child bonding to a combined total of 12 weeks when both parents are employed by the employer.  Second, the law removes the “key employee” exception that allowed employers to deny reinstatement to an employee who used CFRA leave where the employee was among the highest paid 10% of employees.

Getting Ready

As a result of the changes made by SB 1383, which go into effect on January 1, 2021, small employers that will be covered by CFRA for the first time will need to ensure that they adopt new compliant policies and are familiar with their new CFRA obligations, and employers already subject to CFRA will need to revise their leave policies and related materials to address the new CFRA requirements. Employers should also provide training on the new requirements to HR and management personnel who have responsibilities for approving or administering leaves. Finally, employers will need to be alert to the new ways in which CFRA will differ from FMLA and the fact that the leaves will not always run concurrently, to ensure that leaves are properly tracked under the two laws.