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What do FMLA, CFRA, PDL, USERRA, PFL and SDI all have in common? They are all laws governing leaves of absence that were created to make legal managers confused, conflicted and just plain crazy. Have you been asked to give your managing partner or director an easy-to-follow memo or chart on the various leave policies that affect your firm? Have you been asked how long you need to hold a job for someone on leave or how to coordinate disability payments with vacation, sick time and firm pregnancy leave payments? Well, you are not alone. Every legal administrator has to navigate all of the information on these different leave laws and confidently explain the issues to firm partners or shareholders to assure them they are not at risk. It’s not always smooth sailing because each firm has its own policies and procedures, but here is some guidance and resources that can help make the waters a little less choppy. The first challenge is to understand which leave laws apply to your firm. There are laws that guarantee an employee the right to return to the same or similar position under certain circumstances. These are generally known as protective leave laws and include: � Family and Medical Leave Act:This federal law applies to a firm with at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. An eligible employee must be employed for at least 12 months, though the time does not need to be consecutive, and have worked for at least 1,250 hours during the past 12 months. This federal law provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for an employee’s own serious health condition, or that of a family member (excluding domestic partners), or for bonding with a newborn or child who has been adopted or placed in foster care. The law requires health benefits be provided for the employee. � California Family Rights Act:State law applies to firms with at least 50 employees in a 75-mile radius. Employee must have worked for at least 12 months, although the time does not need to be consecutive, and have worked for at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months. This state law provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave in a 12-month period for an employee’s own serious health condition (excluding pregnancy), or that of a family member (including domestic partners). It can also be taken after the state’s Pregnancy Disability Leave (which runs concurrently with FMLA) for the purposes of bonding with a newborn child or child who has been adopted or placed in foster care. Health benefits must continue while the employee is on leave. � Pregnancy Disability Leave:This state law provides up to 16 weeks of unpaid leave, of which up to 12 weeks runs concurrently with FMLA, for pregnancy and pregnancy-related disabilities. An eligible firm must have five or more full-time employees. � Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act:This federal law applies to all employers, regardless of size. It provides up to five years of leave for employees called up for active duty unless the employer is eligible for a hardship exception. You got all that, right? All you have to do is count your employees (don’t forget that not everyone who works at your firm counts as an employee), measure the distance between your offices if you have more than one, figure out what type of leave applies and whether what you are looking at runs concurrently or consecutively with other laws, then how the leave works with your firm’s policies and procedures.
Family and Medical Leave Act: www.dol.gov
California Family Rights Act: www.dfeh.ca.gov
Pregnancy Disability Leave: www.dfeh.ca.gov Uniformed Services Em-ployment and Reemployment Rights Act: www.osc.gov Short-Term Disability and Paid Family Leave: www.edd.ca.gov

Clear waters, right? Let me give you just a bit more to navigate. SAILING THE PAY OCEAN It is important to determine if and how an employee will be paid and how your firm’s benefits and policies work in conjunction with payments made by the state of California. The pay issues are covered with: � Short-Term Disability:Administered by the state Employment Development Department, this is a partial pay program funded through employee payroll deductions that applies to all California employers. It can run concurrently with PDL and FMLA, and medical certification is required. � Paid Family Leave( PFL): Also administered by the EDD, it applies to all California employers. It runs concurrently with the state’s family rights act and starts after short-term disability ends for an employee’s own serious health issue. No medical certification is required. There is a waiting period for benefits. In addition to these paid leaves, your firm may sponsor its own short-term disability program, subject to accrued vacation, sick or personal time, otherwise known as VSP. There are guidelines on what you can allow, require and not restrict in connection with use of accrued and unused time. Coordinating benefits is complicated; when in doubt, consult a professional. WATCH OUT FOR ROCKS Want to just get in the dingy and row back to shore yet? Here are some best practices to keep in mind and hazards to look out for: � To the extent that an issue involves payroll, process this promptly. Be sure that you have employee instructions in writing regarding how the employee wants you to apply his or her VSP. � To the extent that an issue involves state agencies (such as STD or PFL), inform the employee of his or her rights and respond to state audits. Do not act as a conduit for information between an employee and a state agency; that is the employee’s responsibility. � Notify the employee of his responsibility regarding the coordination of benefits. The total amount that the employee receives on a daily basis (STD, Employer STD, VSP and/or PFL) may not exceed the total amount that the employee would have earned if the employee had been working. If he or she collects in excess of this amount, the employee could be subject to a state audit and potential loss of current and future benefits. � Have your firm provide leave policies in writing. Distribute them when an employee is first hired and then again when you counsel an employee about a leave of absence. The EDD office can provide pamphlets on leaves for you to distribute. � Have new hires sign an acknowledgement of receipt of the firm’s handbook describing its policies. � A 12-month period does not automatically mean January through December. You may want to define it in your handbook for clarity. � Be clear about the use of leaves for employees with seriously ill domestic partners and how it coordinates with a leave for a personal serious illness during the same 12-month period. � If you have both parents of a new baby working at your firm, be sure you are aware of the coordination of PFL for that family. Resources are available to you for help understanding the laws, how they work and coordinate with your firm’s benefits. The California Chamber of Commerce, for example, publishes the “California Labor Law Digest” annually, while the EDD has information on its Web site http://www.edd.ca.gov. Whatever you do, I highly recommend you do not try to captain this boat alone. Diane L. Camacho is a certified legal manager with Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Rubin& Demain and president of the Golden Gate Chapter of the Association of Legal Administrators.

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