An extended family goes for a walk outside in the fall.

Who are Your Family Members Under the FMLA & Other Leave Laws?

If you are caregiving for a loved one with a serious medical condition, you may need to take some time off work. The options that you may have to take job-protected leave as a caregiver will depend on how you are related to the person you are caring for. This blog will cover how laws define “family members,” how federal and state laws may protect you, and how California is expanding the definition of “family.”

How Laws Define Family Members

Laws often treat people differently depending on how they are related to each other. For example, being a spouse gives you access to certain legal protections.

Relationship status can also impact access to health insurance, employee benefits, family and medical leave, inheritances, taxes, and rights to medical decision-making.

For more information about issues related to relationship status, read Triage Cancer’s Quick Guide to Cancer-Related LGBTQ+ Rights.

Federal Law: Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks off work, each year, for their own serious medical condition or as a caregiver for a family member with a serious medical condition.

But there are only three types of family relationships that are covered under the FMLA:

  1. spouses (does not apply to domestic or civil union partners)
  2. parents, and
  3. children

The FMLA does not provide job-protected leave to care for other family members such as in-laws, siblings, grandparents, or aunts and uncles. In these situations, individuals will have to look to state law to see if they have access to other protections.

Trying to navigate the FMLA and want to learn more? Read Triage Cancer’s Extended Quick Guide to the FMLA.

State Leave Laws

Some states have leave laws that cover a broader range of family members. For example:

  • In Connecticut, individuals can take time off to care for a sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or an “affinity relationship.”
    • An “affinity relationship” does not require a legal or blood relationship. Instead, you state in writing that you consider your relationship to be equivalent to the relationship you would have with a spouse, sibling, son, daughter, grandparent, grandchild, or parent.
  • In Oregon, individuals can take time off to care for a domestic partner, parent-in-law, grandparent, and grandchild.
  • In California, prior to January 1, 2023, individuals could take time off to care for a domestic partner, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild with a serious health condition.

Other states with an expanded definition of family include: the District of Columbia; Hawaii; Maryland; Maine; New Jersey; New York; Rhode Island; Vermont; Washington; and Wisconsin. For more information, see Triage Cancer’s Chart of State Laws for Taking Time Off.

California is Expanding the Definition of “Family”

On January 1, 2023, California expanded the definition of family under two important state leave laws:

California Family Rights Act (CFRA)

CFRA is similar to the FMLA, but applies to employers with five or more employees. An eligible employee can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for their own serious medical condition or to care for a family member with a serious medical condition.

Prior to January 1, 2023, a family member included a spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, grandparent, grandchild, and sibling.

As of January 1, 2023, individuals can now take time off to care for a “designated person.” CFRA defines a designated person as “any individual related by blood or whose association with the employee is the equivalent of a family member.”

If you need to use the “designated person” category under CFRA, there is not yet guidance on if, or what, paperwork will be needed to show an employer.

But, an employer can limit you to taking leave for one designated person within a 12-month period. Triage Cancer will provide updates on our blog as the use of a designated person develops.

California’s Healthy Workers Healthy Family Act (HWHFA) (Paid Sick Leave)

The HWHFA requires employers of any size to provide paid sick leave to employees after they have worked 30 consecutive days. Qualified individuals receive at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers can cap the amount of sick leave used in one year and how much can be carried over.

Prior to January 1, 2023, individuals could use this paid sick leave for their own or a family member’s “diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition, or preventative care.”

After January 1, 2023, a “family member” will also include a designated person. However, it will not be the same definition as above. Instead, a designated person will be “a person identified by the employee at the time the employee requests paid sick days.”

For more information on California’s paid sick leave, visit Triage Cancer’s California State Resources Page.

It is important to understand the laws, protections, and resources that may be available to help caregivers. For more information, you can review Triage Cancer’s free materials on our Caregivers Topics Page or review our Practical Guide to Cancer Rights for Caregivers.

About Triage Cancer

Triage Cancer is a national, nonprofit providing free education to people diagnosed with cancer, caregivers, and health care professionals on cancer-related legal and practical issues. Through eventsmaterials, and resources, Triage Cancer is dedicated to helping people move beyond diagnosis.

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