California 2023 Leave Law Updates

Labor & Employment Workforce Watch
February 2023

On January 1, 2023, two new California laws went into effect, both of which extend employee rights (and, in turn, employer obligations) with respect to employee protected time off under the California Family Rights Act (“CFRA”)—the state law that allows employees to take up to twelve workweeks of unpaid leave for certain family and medical reasons if an employer has at least five employees and other eligibility conditions are met.

The first new law, California AB 1041, expands upon 2021 amendments to the CFRA that broadened the definition of “parent” to include parents-in-law for purposes of leaves of absence to care for family members and other related employee policies. California AB 1041 further expands coverage to a “designated person” who is any individual related by blood or whose association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship. Similar to the Family and Medical Leave Act’s inclusion of those who served or will serve in the role of a parent, even without a blood or marital parental relationship, the CFRA now provides the same rights of leave to care for a broader group of designated persons who have a relationship which is equivalent to a family relationship. Notably, a designated person does not have to be identified by an employee in advance to qualify, and they may be identified for the first time when the employee requests leave. However, under the new law, an employer can limit an employee to only one designated person per 12-month period. Employers should evaluate leave qualification separately for each potentially applicable leave, when determining whether leaves under various laws can run concurrently.

The second new law, also effective January 1, 2023, is California AB 1949. This law amends CFRA regulations regarding protected time off for bereavement leave. Covered employees who have worked at least 30 days are now provided five days of bereavement leave, to be taken within three (3) months of a qualifying death. This is a departure from the CFRA’s prior rule, which granted permanent employees up to three (3) days of bereavement leave, with up to two (2) additional days of bereavement leave upon request only if the death was out of state. This amendment also clarifies that, where an employer has a paid bereavement leave policy, the first three (3) days of leave will be paid leave. However, if an employer does not have an existing paid bereavement leave policy, the leave may be unpaid (or paid, at the employer’s discretion). Finally, the law makes it unlawful for employers to deny a request by an eligible employee to take up to five (5) days of bereavement leave upon the death of qualifying family members, as defined in the CFRA.

These two changes expand the landscape of protected leave in California, making it incumbent on employers to recognize these changes when granting and denying requests for leave, and to update their leave policies and practices to ensure compliance with these new amendments.