What are the 4 Caregiver rights in California?

Employers often face lawsuits from caregivers for violating caregivers’ rights, such as basic wages.

By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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Lily loves her dad, Jack, and would do anything for him. Now that Jack is eighty years old, he has started to feel his age. These days he has a hard time walking and is starting to use a wheelchair more and more. Worse, he suffers from dementia, which means that he has started to struggle with eating and drinking, and he often forgets where he is. Once, Lily had to call the police because her father went missing while on a walk around the block. It turns out he had gotten lost and ended up walking alongside a freeway. Lily’s kids love their grandpa, and Lily doesn’t want to put him in a senior home just yet. But she understands that her dad needs a lot of specialized care. Lily thereby becomes the family caregiver, but she wants to know how this will affect her employment and her rights. She wonders, what rights do caregivers have?

Rights of a Caregiver

A caregiver is an individual who has taken on the role of both care provider and advocate. While the state of California must still improve the support and infrastructure available to caregivers, the state is taking positive steps. In general, California recognizes and respects a caregiver’s responsibility. Therefore, there are relevant laws and rights which caregivers in the state should be aware of, as well as the changes currently being made to help caregivers.

1. The California Hospital and Family Caregiver Law

The California Hospital and Family Caregiver Law, which went into effect in 2016, established rights for caregivers and ill loved ones when it comes to hospital care. Before the law went into effect, family caregivers were not always kept informed on when loved ones were transferred between hospitals or discharged from care. Frustratingly, this would keep caregivers out of the loop on matters related to their relative’s care. The California Hospital and Family Caregiver Law has achieved much in this area. The law now requires hospitals to:

  • Record the name of a designated caregiver
  • Notify the caregiver of status updates (i.e., discharges to new facilities, clinics, or homes)
  • Provide in-depth instructions to caregivers so that they can perform medically required procedures or tasks at home. This includes info pertaining to medication and dosage, as well as how to properly use specialty medical equipment
  • Provide all information and permit questions in a language that the caregiver and patient are comfortable with

Example: Rosa is the designated caregiver for her husband, Hector, who suffers from ALS. Whenever Hector needs hospital treatment, Rosa is kept updated by doctors and nurses about her husband’s condition and status. While in the hospital for an extended stay, Hector is moved to a different clinic for specialty care. Immediately, Rosa is informed so that she can go to the new clinic to be with her husband. At the new clinic, Rosa is taught about her husband’s new wheelchair, how to use it, and what new medications she will have to administer. Rosa is thankful that all of these instructions are delivered in Spanish, her and Hector’s native language.

2. California Paid Family Leave Act

The California Paid Family Leave Act (PFL), is a program that helps replace wages, or subsidize income, for family caregivers or new parents who must take time away from their regular jobs to provide care to loved ones. The law is applicable to individuals in California who meet the following requirements:

  • Contribute to SDI (State Disability Insurance)
  • Provide care to their spouse, child, parent, domestic partner, grandparents, grandchild, sibling, or parent-in-law

As of July 1, 2020, eligible caregivers can take up to 8 weeks of time off within a 12-month period, and at any time in that period. The time off does not have to be consecutive (all eight weeks in a row, for example), and the caregiver will receive partial payment for wages lost during that time off.

Example: Mohammed’s wife has just given birth to their third baby, and Mohammed is thrilled. However, he recognizes that his wife cannot care for three young children all on her own while also recovering from childbirth. He applies for time off under the California Paid Family Leave Act, which would allow him to stay at home with his wife and help her care for the new baby. Under the program, he will receive subsidized wages to help make up for the work that he is missing. Mohammed is thereby able to take off eight weeks from work and support his growing family.

3. California Family Rights Act

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) is a law that permits caregivers to take leave from work to provide care for a family member without fear of losing their job. The law applies to individuals in California who meet the following requirements:

  • Employed by a company with five or more employees
  • Provide care to a child, spouse, parent, domestic partner, grandparents, grandchild, sibling, or parent-in-law

As of July 1, 2020, eligible caregivers can take up to 12 weeks of time off within a 12-month period, and that time may be taken at any point in that period. The time does not need to be taken consecutively (all twelve weeks at once, for example), and employees are protected from losing their job or being demoted during this time off.

Example: Britney works at an office in Culver City. She has just given birth to her first child, a little boy named Noah. In order to recover from giving birth and to take care of little Noah, she applies for leave under the California Family Rights Act. Under the law, she receives 12 weeks of leave to care for her new baby. She is assured that her job will be there for her when she gets back from her time off, and her position will be the same.

4. California Paid Sick Leave

Under the California Paid Sick Leave policy, employees are allowed to take a minimum of three sick days per year. These days must be job-protected and paid. In California, employees are eligible is they meet the following requirement:

  • Have been employed by the same employer for at least 30 days

An employee in California may use sick leave for themselves or a family member. These days can be used for the following reasons:

  • The diagnosis, care, or treatment of a condition
  • Preventative care
  • Time off related to sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking

Recent Updates to California Laws

As of 2021, California has been considering making an amendment to its employment laws. The proposed amendment would give additional protections to family caregivers. At present, an employer is legally allowed to discriminate against an employee based on their status as a family caregiver. This amendment would change that.

In theory, the proposed law would affect caregivers’ rights in the following ways:

  • It would prevent employers from discriminating against applicants and current employees who have or are seeking work based on caregiving responsibilities. Employers can technically deny a person employment if he or she is seeking a role that caters to their caregiving responsibilities.

    Example: Jenny is applying to a new job at a hair salon. Outside of work, Jenny takes care of her elderly mother who is disabled and going through cancer treatment. As her mother’s caregiver, Jenny is looking for a job that gives her a flexible schedule so she can take her mother to doctor’s appointments and chemotherapy sessions. She would also like a job that understands when there is an emergency and Jenny needs to clock out to take care of her mom. Jenny assumed that as a hairstylist, she would get some flexibility with her schedule and be able to take care of her mother in between shifts. Unfortunately, her would-be boss denies her employment because he wants someone who is not “flaky” and whom he can rely on consistently. Jenny is hurt. But under the current employment laws, the employer is allowed to discriminate based on caregiver status. If the new law goes into effect, Jenny would be protected from this kind of discrimination.

  • It would give caregiving employees with “direct and ongoing” responsibilities the right to certain accommodations. One of these accommodations would be the right to leave work a few minutes early or arrive a little late due to childcare needs. At present, families with these issues need to take disability leave.

    Example: Leo works at an office in Pacific Palisades. His three-year-old son, Danny, is in pre-school. His wife, Lydia, works a demanding job with a hectic schedule. As a result, sometimes Leo needs to go to work a little late or leave a little early in order to drop Danny off at daycare or pick him up when his wife is unavailable. Currently, his employer makes Leo use paid time off when this kind of situation arises. Under the proposed law, Leo would be granted accommodation. He would not have to use PTO to pick up his son on occasion.

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