Most Americans have the right to take up to three months of unpaid leave to recover from injuries or care for a sick family member. This right is protected under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If you live in California, you’re also protected under the California Family Act (CFRA) and have even broader rights to take time off.
Under these laws, a covered employer can’t take “adverse employment actions” against you, like termination, demotion, or cutting your hours when you return to work. However, many employers ignore this restriction and fire workers for taking protected leave anyway.
If you’ve taken FMLA or CFRA leave and been fired for it, you may have grounds to take legal action against your employer. Here’s what you need to know about these laws and what you can do if you’ve already been fired for taking protected time off.
How FMLA and CFRA Protect Your Job
Both the FMLA and CFRA require covered employers to grant covered employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per 12-month period to recover from illness or injury or to care for a sick family member. They also permit people to take time off for the addition of a child to their household through birth, adoption, or foster placement and for qualifying military exigencies.
During this time, employees are not paid, but they remain employed, and their benefits must continue. Furthermore, when they return to work, they must be given their old job or one that is functionally indistinguishable. This allows workers to take time away from work for family reasons without risking their entire careers.
California’s laws cover significantly more state residents than the FMLA does. Under the CFRA, covered businesses include any company with five or more employees, whether they are full-time or part-time. Workers qualify for CFRA leave if they have worked for an employer for at least one year and have worked at least 1250 hours for that employer in the past year.
Furthermore, the state no longer requires specific legal relationships. Workers can take time off under CFRA to care for a “designated person,” including anyone to whom they are legally related or whose association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.
What Counts as Illegal Retaliation Under FMLA and CFRA?
Employers cannot retaliate against workers for taking FMLA or CFRA leave before, during, or after their time away. That is why this leave is considered “protected.” Employees are supposed to be able to take this time off without risking the loss of their job.
However, too many employers either misunderstand CFRA or disregard it. These companies often view their workers as expendable resources and look for ways to discourage them from doing anything that may inconvenience the business.
One way they do this is by finding excuses to terminate employees who request CFRA leave. This allows them to replace the worker with someone who does not need time away and discourages other employees from requesting their due time off. However, this type of termination is illegal, and the fired employee can file a claim against the business to get their job back and receive compensation for their losses.
Termination because of CFRA leave isn’t the only type of retaliation the law bans. Other forms of illegal retaliation for CFRA leave include:
- Cutting your hours before or after your time off
- Demoting you
- Cutting your pay
- Refusing to give you the same job or a functionally identical one when you return
In short, any adverse employment action your employer takes against you because you request CFRA or FMLA leave is unlawful.
Benefits of Holding Your Employer Accountable for FMLA Discrimination
If you have suffered from an unlawful FMLA termination, you do not have to accept that your job is gone. You can take legal action against your employer to fight for your career and your lost pay. Pursuing your claim has benefits such as:
- Job Reinstatement: If you’ve been fired, demoted, or had your hours cut, you can request that you be reinstated to your old job. Reinstatement will allow you to return to the work you did before suffering retaliation for your request, with the same pay and benefits as you had before you left.
- Damages for Lost Wages: Most forms of retaliation for requesting CFRA leave involve lost wages. Whether you’ve had your hours or pay cut or were fired, you can request back pay equivalent to the pay and benefits you did not receive. This is typically calculated based on the amount you made and the benefits you received in the months before you requested leave.
- Compensation for Emotional Distress: Losing your income is stressful, especially when you or a loved one is experiencing significant medical distress. You may be able to pursue financial compensation for the emotional damage your employer’s actions caused you.
In short, you may be able to reclaim your job, the pay and benefits you lost, and even additional funds to make up for the stress of the matter.
Proven Legal Representation for FMLA Discrimination Cases
You most likely have the right to take FMLA or CFRA leave in California to care for yourself or a loved one. If you’ve been fired for taking protected leave, you can stand up for your rights to keep your job, income, and benefits. The first step is to reach out to an experienced San Francisco employment law attorney. At Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP, we specialize in protecting your right to fair employment under state and federal law. We have years of experience helping our clients address employment law violations like unlawful FMLA terminations. We are available to advocate on your behalf in court or at the negotiation table. Schedule your free consultation today to learn more.