Leave of Absence Laws in California

There are several leave of absence laws in California. Collectively, these laws provide job protection while you take some time away from work to recover from a serious health condition or to care for a loved one who has a medical problem or disability.

The main leave of absence law in the State is the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). It is very similar to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But there are several more. This page briefly covers each of those laws, so you can identify which one applies to your situation. Then you can click through to learn more about what your employment rights are.

This page was written by Branigan Robertson, an employment attorney in Southern California.

What is a Leave of Absence?

Generally, a leave of absence is time away from work to recover from a serious health condition, or to care for another who has a serious health condition. In other situations, it can be time off for military service, jury duty, and voting.

In the past, when someone needed to take a leave of absence, corporations could just fire the person. Obviously, this is devastating on the lives of hard working people who just needed a short reprieve from work to care for a loved one or recover from an emergency.

In response to such corporate disregard, California created numerous leave of absence laws that certain employers must comply with. Moreover, CA bars discrimination against an employee who takes a qualified leave. As a result, California has some of the most employee friendly leave of absence laws in the USA.

What Kinds of Things Can I Take a Leave of Absence For?

California permits qualified employees to take a leave of absence for the following reasons:

This list is only the beginning. There are many more reasons why an employee can take a leave.

How Long Can You Take Off of Work in California

In general, a qualified employee can take a leave of absence for up to 12 weeks for serious health conditions, to bond with a child, or to care for a child, parent, or other family member with a serious health condition.

Employees can also use any sick time or PTO that they’ve saved up to take time off to care for a family member or domestic partner.

However, there are longer leave of absence periods (such as up to four months for pregnancy disability) and shorter periods (such as intermittent leave). To learn more about your specific situation, read our detailed pages on each type of leave.

Are There Any Restrictions to These Laws?


First of all, the leave of absence is unpaid. You don’t get paid during your leave, but your employer may be required to maintain health coverage and other benefits.

Second, to qualify, you generally have to work for a large enough employer (usually more than 50 employees within a 75 mile radius), and you have to have been working for that company for one year and worked at least 1,250 hours. The 50 employee threshold is being reduced by CFRA to 20 employees in 2020.

Third, there are several restrictions, including doctors notes, notice requirements, your “serious health condition” must qualify as such under the legal standard, and more.

What Restrictions Are There For the Company?

Companies must comply with these laws. If they don’t, or if they interfere or impede these employment rights in any way, they will face legal consequences.

Specifically, if an employer fires an employee who attempts to take a leave of absence under the terms of CFRA or FMLA, they can be held financially liable for damages in a lawsuit. And these damages can get very large.

If an employer chooses to ignore these laws, employees can recover their lost wages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages, and attorney’s fees. These cases usually settle and the settlements range from more than a million dollars to as small as reinstatement. Every case is drastically different.

What Should You Do If You’re Being Denied Your Leave?

Did your boss deny you a leave of absence for your medical condition or pregnancy? Or was your leave granted, but upon returning to work, you feel like you are now being punished for taking it? It is time to contact a lawyer.

Our firm represents employees who were either denied their leave, discriminated for taking it, or were retaliated against. If something like this has happened to you, you can contact our office for a free consultation. Our office is located in Orange County, but we serve clients throughout all of California.