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More workers are getting fired for taking care of sick parents

By now you’ve heard plenty of stories regarding companies firing workers for getting sick for too long or having a baby. Many of these scenarios often end up being a violation of California and potentially federal law as the employers are unaware of how certain employment regulations work or try to twist the employee’s condition into an excuse to fire them.

While these discriminatory practices still occur today, newer laws and an increased awareness around these incidents are slowly decreasing the amount of times they happen. Unfortunately, one complicated issue that’s been getting some attention recently is the issue of workers taking time off to care for sick loved ones. Unfortunately, employers might use this vulnerable period to fire the employee and bring in someone new. California workers and employers should be aware of the current regulations in place regarding paid family leave to avoid workplace controversies.

Current laws

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) helps cover workers that need time to attend to loved ones. Under the current standards, workers can take up to 12 weeks of paid or unpaid job-protected leave if one of their loved ones is giving birth or comes down with a serious health condition. The worker can qualify if they have been with the company for more than a year and the company must employ 50 or more part-time or full-time employees.

While that does sound similar to the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) there are some differences between the two. The CFRA doesn’t cover pregnancy (as expecting employees are entitled to Pregnancy Disability Leave) or active military duty, but it does cover domestic partners equal to spouses.

Dangerous loopholes

While the CFRA does cover for a lot of workers, it lacks certain clarifications that employers may take advantage of. For example, KTVU recently highlighted how a San Francisco restaurant worker was fired after taking some weeks off to help her dying mother-in-law. She received permission from her boss to travel to Nicaragua, where she cared for her mother-in-law and attended the eventual funeral. When she returned, she discovered that her company had terminated her employment.

The company found that the CFRA technically doesn’t mention covering for visiting sick in-laws. The worker claims that she took some time off before for a car accident and getting sick, and visiting her dying in-law appeared to be the opportunity her company needed to fire her. Her attorneys found that the company had a bad history with mistreatment of sick employees and that they never told her that in-laws don’t qualify for family leave until she got back. The company blamed the incident on a computer error and eventually reached a settlement before the trial would occur.

Until the state gets rid of some of these loopholes, many California workers could be unknowingly putting their careers at risk just to take care of a loved one. Employers should not be taking advantage of a potentially emotional period in their workers’ lives. Employees should speak with an employment law attorney if they were wrongfully terminated or have any further questions on how paid leaves in the state work.

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