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Can your employer fire you for taking leave to care for family?

On Behalf of | Apr 12, 2022 | Employment Law |

Professionals have to balance the demands of loved ones with the obligations of their employment. Many working adults are able to meet most of their family needs when they are not at work by running errands on the way home and tackling household projects on the weekends.

However, there are certain family circumstances that can affect your work-life balance. For example, if you have a family member who needs medical care for a significant issue, like a broken leg that leaves them immobilized or chemotherapy treatments for cancer, they might require support around the home. Rather than hiring a stranger, the better solution may be for you to support them during their recovery.

Can you take a leave of absence to help your family member, or can your employer fire you for taking time off?

Federal and state laws protect your right to unpaid leave

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a federal law, and California Family Rights Act (CFRA) give employees the right to take an unpaid leave of absence if a member of their immediate family requires medical support. The federal law only applies to companies with dozens of employees, but the CFRA extends leave rights to workers employed by companies with just five employees.

Most times, a worker can take up to 12 weeks of leave, either all at once or spread out over the course of a year. If the family member requiring medical assistance is an active-duty military servicemember, they may qualify for up to 26 weeks of unpaid leave.

Only close family members, including parents, children and spouses, qualify for unpaid leave. There will need to be documentation of the relationship, as well as of the medical condition necessitating support.

What if your employer fires you anyway?

A company whose worker qualifies for leave under the FMLA or CFRA should give that worker leave and then allow them to come back to work later. Some businesses will instead demote employees or fire them for asserting their rights under federal and California state law. A civil lawsuit may be necessary if an employer violates your right to take unpaid leave.

Knowing that you have the right to take unpaid leave can make it easier to assert yourself as an employee who needs time off to care for your family.