We all know California is a pretty employee-friendly state.  Employers are regularly and rightfully bewildered when it comes to knowing the ins-and-outs of California’s laws, especially when it comes to some of the more obscure requirements allowing them to miss work.  Well, we’re here to help key you in on a few of the more surprising protected leaves of absence that you may not have known existed:

          1.   Time Off For Noble Deeds That’s right.  If your employees want to help save the world (or a kitten from a tree), they can do so without fear of losing their job.  Lab. Code §§ 230.3-.4; 1501-1507.  Employers in California are required to allow employees to take unpaid leaves of absence to serve as volunteer firefighters, reserve peace officers, emergency rescue personnel, or as a member of the Civil Air Patrol.  Any employer who discriminates against an employee for taking time allowed under the law is guilty of a criminal misdemeanor, and the affected employee is entitled to reinstatement, lost wages, and benefits.

          2.   Time Off For Giving Of Yourself to Save Lives – In keeping with allowing time off for noble deeds, did you know that you must allow employees to take paid leaves of absence to donate an organ or bone marrow?  If you employ 15 or more employees, an employee that has worked for you for at least 90 days is entitled to take up to 5 business days of paid leave during any one-year period to donate bone marrow, and up to 30 business days of paid leave during any one-year period to donate an organ.  Lab. Code §§ 1508-1513. 

          You can, however, require the employee to use up to two weeks of paid sick leave or vacation time, if they have it available.  It is important to note that these leaves do not run concurrently with any FMLA/CFRA leaves that the employee may also likely be eligible to receive.  Upon return from a leave under these provisions, the employee is entitled to reinstatement in the same or a comparable position of employment.    

          3.   Time Off For Classroom Helpers – Do you remember parents helping out in your kindergarten class, or coming to show-and-tell?  That time off is protected under California law if your business has more than 25 employees and the employee gives you reasonable advance notice.  Parents, guardians, and grandparents with custody can take unpaid time off (or use vacation/personal leave) up to 8 hours per month and 40 hours per school year to participate in their child’s school or day care activities.  Lab. Code § 230.8.  The penalty for violating this provision is stiff — affected employees can obtain reinstatement, lost wages and benefits, as well as a civil penalty of three times the lost wages and benefits.  Talk about being sent to detention.

          4.   Time Off For Pregnancy Keeps On Delivering If you thought pregnancy lasts nine months, think again.  In California, there may be no cap to the amount of leave an employee can take in connection with her pregnancy and childbirth.  Thanks to a recent decision by a California Court of Appeal, the Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (“PDLL”), which allows for up to four months leave for pregnancy-related disability, “augments rather than supplants” other disability leave provisions set forth in the Fair Housing and Employment Act (“FEHA”), as well as leave to bond with a new child under the CFRA.  Sanchez v. Swissport, Inc., 213 Cal. App. 4th 1331, 1338 (2013).  This means that an employee may be entitled to take up to four months leave under PDLL, up to an additional 12-weeks of leave under CFRA, and any additional leave as a reasonable accommodation under FEHA if the employee is still disabled after exhausting PDLL.  Essentially, a pregnant employee may be entitled to take leave that lasts longer than her entire gestation period, with time to spare for another.

          5.   Time Off For Addicts And Those Who Need Help Reading And just in case we haven’t surprised you enough . . . you probably did not know that you are also obligated to allow your employees to take unpaid leave as a “reasonable accommodation” to participate in alcohol or drug rehabilitation programs, or adult literacy programs, if your business has 25 or more employees.  Lab. Code §§ 1025-26; 1041.  You must also take reasonable steps to safeguard the privacy of an employee who has informed you about enrolling in such a program.  Luckily, there is a caveat — you may terminate or refuse to hire employees whose current use of drugs or alcohol prevents them from performing their duties or where it creates a safety concern.     

Workplace Solutions: When it comes to employee leave of absence laws, these are just the tip of the iceberg.  Just keep in mind that if your employee approaches you asking for time off from work for some peculiar circumstances, it just may be something California law gives them the right to do.  If you are interested in learning more, please contact us and ask about our “California Peculiarities” full-length publication.