November 10, 2022

CFRA Changes: What Defines a “Designated Person?”

The California Family Rights Act provides a qualified employee the opportunity to request protected leave – up to a total of 12 workweeks in any 12-month period – for family care and medical leave. Employees may take protected time off for their own serious health condition or that of a family member.

Various changes over the years have expanded the definition of “family care and medical leave” under the CFRA to include leave to care “for a child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or domestic partner who has a serious health condition.” Newly enacted legislation (AB 1041) further expands this definition to include a “designated person.” But what does it mean to be a ‘designated person’ within the meaning of the statute? The possibilities seem endless.

According to the statute, a designated person is defined as “any individual related by blood or whose association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.” A purposefully broad designation according to legislative comments. The Bill’s author cites an “overwhelming majority of households” departing from the “nuclear family” model as impetus for the change.

What this leaves employers grappling with is who actually qualifies? Until the California Civil Rights Department (CCRD) provides further guidance, this question will be difficult to answer. However, given the broad nature of this latest expansion, it seems the CCRD may be signaling that going forward it will likely not spend much time considering the relationship of the individual to the employee for purposes of compliance. This is further supported by the language of the statute which provides, “the designated person may be identified by the employee at the time the employee requests leave (emphasis added)”

As such, employers may want to begin preparing for “designated person” leave requests by training compliance personnel to focus less on the designated person’s relationship with the employee and more on the employer’s obligations under the CFRA. Focusing on its obligations (at least until further guidance can be provided) will ensure employers remain compliance-focused when evaluating leave risk factors.