Know Which Type of Leave of Absence (LOA) is Right for Your Employee

January 22, 2018


This article has been published in partnership with ThinkHR.

In the Human Resource world, Leaves of Absence (LOA) can be very complex. There are many questions to take into account when an employee walks into your office and inquires about a leave:

  • Is the employee entitled to a leave, and if so which one?
  • Does this situation call for personal leave, federal leave or state leave?
  • Is this a paid leave or an unpaid leave?
  • Is this a job protected (unpaid) leave?
  • Is there an income replacement leave available to this employee?

To tackle these questions, let’s look at LOA in bite-sized chunks. We’ll explore the difference between a job protected leave vs. an income replacement leave, focusing specifically on California. Please note that the information below is not all-inclusive, and you should always consult legal counsel if you are unsure of the type of leave an employee may be eligible for.

Job Protected Leaves

There are three major mandatory job protected leaves in California. These leave types do not provide income replacement:

  • FMLA (Family and Medical Leave Act) – This is a Federal leave for employers with 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the worksite. An employee must have worked for you for 12 months and 1,250 hours in the prior 12 month period. Employees may take up to 12 weeks off in a 12 month period for:
    • Birth of a child/care for a newborn, adoption or foster child care (up to the age of one, or within a year of placement)
    • Care for self, spouse, child or parent with a serious health condition
  • CFRA (California Family Rights Act) – This is a state-mandated leave and has the same requirements and qualifications as FMLA. The eligibility rules for this leave are the same as above, with a few differences. The list below is not all-inclusive.
    • CFRA covers registered domestic partners, where the FMLA does not recognize them
    • CFRA does not cover leave due to pregnancy/childbirth or military service members’ needs, where the FMLA does
  • PDL (California Pregnancy Disability Leave) – This is a state-mandated leave for employers with five or more employees. There is no minimum hours worked requirement for employees to be eligible. Employees with a pregnancy disability may take up to four months of PDL per pregnancy. An employee’s health care provider will determine whether the employee has a disability due to pregnancy that prevents the employee from preforming the essential duties of their job.

There are numerous other job protection leaves, of which some provide income replacement (in bold):

  • Alcohol and drug rehabilitation leave
  • ADA (Americans with Disability Act)
  • California paid sick leave
  • California workers’ compensation
  • Employer leave of absence policies
  • Kin Care
  • Organ donor/bone marrow donor leave
  • Victims of domestic violence leave

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Income Replacement Leaves

There are two major paid leaves that coordinate most often with the job protection leaves:

  • PFL (Paid Family Leave) – State-mandated program to provide income replacement for employees who need time to bond with a new child or to care for a seriously ill family member.
  • SDI (State Disability Insurance) – State-mandated program to provide partial income replacement for employees who are unable to work. This program is for all eligible California workers who are unable to work due to disability (as certified by their physician), for reasons other than pregnancy or a work related illness/injury

Job protected leaves and income replacement leaves coordinate and work together, which can cause confusion and frustration when coordinating LOAs for employees. Below are links that provide additional information on each of the major leaves. The information provided by these resources is general in nature and not all-inclusive. 

As a reminder, any time you are unsure what to do, your best bet is to seek legal guidance to ensure compliance.

Additional Information/Resources:



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