• Kevin Cleveland and Hannah Moon

New Year, New Employee Handbook Updates

Though the past year was full of “unprecedented times,” at least something was reliable – new laws pertaining to employers! This article will provide a brief overview of a few of the important changes for 2021 that, if applicable, should be updated in your company’s handbook accordingly.


Family Leave Policies

The California Family Rights Act requires employers to provide 12 workweeks of unpaid leave for family care and medical leave (including new parent leave), and it has been expanded this year. As we reported in September of last year in this article, the employee requirement has been lowered, and, starting January 1, 2021, companies that employ five or more employees must now provide family leave. Employees still must have worked for the company for at least 12 months and have worked 1250 hours in the prior 12-month period to be eligible.


For companies already providing family leave and/or new parent leave:

  • There is no longer a 75-mile radius requirement to be a covered employer.

  • There is added coverage for a “qualifying exigency” for the active duty of an employee’s spouse, domestic partner, child, or parent in the Armed Forces. This change allows CFRA to mirror leave available under the FMLA more closely.

  • The family members that an employee can take care of while on CFRA has been expanded from an employee’s parent, child, spouse, or domestic partner to include a grandparent, grandchild, or sibling with a serious health condition.

  • The exception that allowed employers to choose not to reinstate highly compensated/key employees in certain instances has been eliminated.

  • There is no longer a limitation on leave to care for a child when both parents work for the same employer. Previously, the two parents combined could only take 12 weeks of leave, now they will have 24 weeks available.

Of major concern, the new expanded definition of family under the CFRA means that it no longer perfectly overlaps with the federal, FMLA. As a result, it is possible that an employee could care for a family member covered by CFRA but not FMLA and still be owed FMLA time to care for a different family member later in the year utilizing FMLA leave.


Additionally, there is now a family leave mediation pilot program for small employers (5-19 employees) which allows small employers or the employee to request mediation through the Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s (DFEH) dispute resolution division.


Make sure that your family, medical, and parent leave sections are properly updated to reflect these new developments.


Sexual Harassment Policies

Sexual harassment policies in handbooks now must include this link to the DFEH website - https://www.dfeh.ca.gov/shpt/.

Sick Leave Policies

If your company’s handbook mentions that employees can use sick leave to take care of family members, remember that employers cannot require employees to use sick leave for kin care. Instead, the law now requires that employees have the power to use their sick leave at “their sole discretion.” As a result, if the employee does not use kin care or ensure that the time off is covered by some other form of available leave, their time off will need to be reviewed for potential violations of the company’s attendance policy.


Domestic Violence Leave Policies

This type of leave now also applies to victims of crime or abuse. Time off can now be taken for: seeking medical attention for injuries caused by crime or abuse, obtaining services from certain entities, obtaining psychological counseling or mental health services, or participating in safety planning.


Unlimited Vacation Time Policies

If your company has an unlimited vacation program, you may want to reach out to us, as there were some clarifications this year on how that must be done to be legally compliant and avoid the need to pay out vacation time at termination.


On-Call Employees Policies

If your company has on-call employees, please reach out to us. A recent court case significantly limits how on-call employees can be used without creating major wage and hour issues.


If you have any questions about handbooks or would like more information about how to update your policies and procedures for this year, please call the experts at Young, Cohen & Durrett LLP at (916) 569-1700.

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