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Must we provide benefits during leave?

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Q. Are we required to continue to offer our employees benefits while they are out on leave?

A. The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) provides leave rights for the:

  • Birth of a child or placement of a child in the employee’s family for adoption or foster care
  • Serious health condition of the employee’s child, parent or spouse
  • Employee’s own serious health condition.

Employers do not have to pay employees during CFRA leave, except when an employee uses accrued vacation time or other accumulated paid leave other than accrued sick leave.

But, if the leave is for the employee’s own serious health condition, the employee may elect to (or the employer may require the employee to) use accrued vacation time or other accumulated paid leave, including any accrued sick leave.

During CFRA leave, the employee is entitled to accrual of seniority and to participate in employee benefit plans, including life, short-term or long-term disability or accident insurance, pension and retirement plans and supplemental unemployment benefit plans to the same extent and under the same conditions as would apply to any other leave.

Plus, employers that provide health insurance under a group plan must continue to provide coverage during CFRA leave. The obligation begins when the leave begins and continues for the duration of the leave, up to a maximum of 12 work weeks in a 12-month period. Employees may be required to continue paying their share of the premium contribution.

In addition, two bills (S.B. 299 and A.B. 592) amending the California Fair Employment and Housing Act’s pregnancy disability provisions went into effect Jan. 1, 2012. They require employers to provide pregnant employees the same level of insurance benefits during pregnancy-related leave as they were provided prior to taking the leave. Previously, employers had to maintain health benefits for employees on a pregnancy-disability leave to the same extent that was available to employees out on other medical or disability-related leaves.

As a result of the change, employees who begin a pregnancy disability leave but are not eligible for leave under the federal FMLA or the CFRA until after they go on leave, may be eligible to receive continued health benefits coverage for a maximum of seven months (including four months under the new law and up to 12 weeks under the CFRA and federal law).

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