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Understand CFRA leave limits: Employees’ reinstatement rights last just 12 weeks

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in Employment Law,Human Resources

The Court of Appeal of California has clarified that employees taking California Family Rights Act (CFRA) leave are entitled to reinstatement to the same or an equivalent job only if they return at the end of their 12 weeks of leave or earlier. They can’t take additional non-CFRA leave to ex­­­tend their return rights.

The court’s decision reversed a trial jury’s award that would have been worth more than $350,000.

Recent case: Katrina Rogers worked for Los Angeles County for 36 years, eventually becoming a high-level personnel officer within the executive office of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. In 2006, she requested CFRA and short-term disability leave for work-related stress. The county approved her request and she took the time off.

Meanwhile, the Board of Super­­visors appointed a new executive officer who immediately began reorganizing the executive office. She redrew the hierarchy and moved positions around. Some were elevated on the organizational chart and others were lowered. Still other positions were eliminated entirely. One of those was Rogers’.

However, the new executive officer also tried to identify another spot for Rogers and ended up creating a new position for her that would utilize her experience and skills.

When Rogers returned to work after 17 weeks of leave, she learned she was being transferred. Although the job was not the equivalent of her old one, she would be paid the same salary and benefits.

She went home sick that day and never returned, deciding to retire rather than face transfer.

Rogers sued, alleging that the county interfered with her right to return to an equivalent job after taking CFRA leave. She also claimed the county had retaliated against her for taking leave.

In court, she told a jury that she was “devastated” and “humiliated” by the “demotion.” Apparently the jury believed her distress was worth $356,000, including $50,000 for emotional distress.

The county appealed. It argued that the CFRA only guarantees that em­­ployees will return to the same or an equivalent job if they come back to work after no more than 12 weeks off. The Court of Appeal of Cali­for­nia agreed. Since Rogers was on leave for 17 weeks, that protection had ex­­pired. It didn’t matter that the county had approved Rogers’ additional time off under other benefit plans that provided more leave than the CFRA.

The court also said there was no retaliation since the county clearly showed it had drawn up the reorgani­zation plans based on its perceived need to make the organization work smarter and not because it wanted to punish Rogers for taking leave. The county proved this by having clear rec­­ords showing its decision-making process. (Rogers v. County of Los Angeles, No. B217764, Court of Appeal of California, 2nd Appellate District, 2011)

Final note: CFRA leave runs concurrent with FMLA leave. That means employees can’t get 24 weeks of protected leave. Job protection ends after 12 weeks.

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