You likely have the right to take leave from work to care for your family or recover from a health condition under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). However, having the right and exercising it are very different things. Many people hesitate to take their legally protected time because they don’t know how to bring it up with their employers.
Don’t let a lack of knowledge force you to keep working when your family needs you. If you are eligible for this time off, your workplace must grant it and cannot retaliate against you for your request. All you need to do is ask for it. Here’s how to tell your boss you’re taking FMLA leave the right way.
When Can You Take FMLA Leave?
Before you request leave, you should ensure you’re eligible for it. In California, you’re covered by both the FMLA and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), which provides more protections. Under CFRA, all employers with five or more workers must permit them to take up to 12 weeks of family or medical leave per 12-month period.
Employees must have worked for their current employer for at least 12 months before their start date, though this may be non-consecutive. Additionally, workers must have performed at least 1,250 hours of labor for the company in the past year.
If you meet those criteria, you’re eligible for protected leave in the following circumstances:
- To recover from a health condition or illness that makes you unable to perform your job duties
- To care for a designated person suffering from a serious medical condition
- To bond with a new child
During your time away, your employer must continue your benefits, though they do not need to pay you. Additionally, they must allow you to return to your previous role or a functionally identical position after you come back to work.
Informing Your Employer About Your Impending Leave
You can request protected leave if you’re confident you meet the terms above. Your employer cannot deny your request and cannot penalize you for it. However, you are required to tell your company when you need leave and provide an explanation.
However, this explanation does not need to be an in-depth exploration of your family’s medical history. In fact, your employer cannot request access to your medical records or otherwise invade your privacy. So, what do you have to share?
What You Need to Tell Your Employer
There is no standard report or form provided by the state or federal government related to protected leave requests. Your employer may have such a form, but it is not legally required. You’ll most likely request it through your employer’s normal call-in system. In your request, you must:
- Give your employer reasonable notice. The CFRA and FMLA require employees to request leave as soon as possible to give their employers time to prepare for their absence. What constitutes reasonable notice depends on your circumstances.
- Explain why your request is protected under the law. This means explaining how your request relates to a serious medical condition or a new child.
- Document that you requested the time off. It’s best to inform your employer about your need for time off by email since this records exactly what you said and when. If you tell them in person or over the phone, follow up by email to confirm.
After you make your request, your employer can require you to provide a medical certification from a qualified healthcare professional. However, they must give you at least 15 days to get this certification.
What You Do Not Have to Share
Your employer does not have the right to detailed information about your health. They cannot request your medical history or demand you sign a medical release or waiver. You don’t even have to share an exact diagnosis. You need to prove it fits the criteria established by the CFRA or FMLA.
For example, if you feel uncomfortable disclosing the reason for an injury, you can simply state you were seriously hurt and require physical therapy. If you are undergoing surgery, you do not need to explain why; you just need to note you need time to get surgery and recover. If you welcome a child, you don’t need to say whether you are adopting, fostering, using a surrogate, or any other information, just that you need child bonding time.
What Constitutes Reasonable Notice for Family Leave?
Reasonable notice varies. If you know well in advance that you’ll need to take time off work, you must give your employer at least 30 days advance notice. This gives them time to find a temporary replacement for you or otherwise tweak the schedule to cover for your absence.
If you find out you need leave less than 30 days in advance, you need to notify your employer as soon as possible. This is usually defined as within one business day of learning you’ll need leave.
If you need to leave for an emergency, let your employer know as soon as possible. If you can, follow standard call-out policies or sick time request policies.
How to Respond if Your Employer Denies FMLA Leave
If you’re eligible for protected leave and your employer denies your request, they are in the wrong. Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP is here to help. Our expert California employment law attorneys are on your side. Reach out today to discuss your denied leave request and learn more about your options. We can help you stand up for your rights and represent you if you need to take legal action. Don’t let your employer violate your rights or put your health or family at risk. Let us help.