A bill to expand the California Family Rights Act will be considered by the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee next week.
AB 2039 (Swanson; D-Alameda) significantly expands the type of individuals or circumstances under which employees can take a 12-week, protected leave of absence under California’s Family Rights Act (CFRA), and creates rights not provided for under the Federal Family Medical Leave Act.
CFRA requires an employer with 50 or more employees to allow an employee who has worked at least 1,250 hours to take up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for his/her own serious medical condition, for the birth or placement of a child, or to care for the serious medical condition of a child, (under 18 years of age or adult dependent), spouse, or parent.
The current definition of “parent” includes step-parents as well as individuals who stand in place of a parent, “in loco parentis,” to the child.
AB 2039 seeks to expand CFRA by allowing an employee a protected leave to care for adult children, parents-in-law, grandparents and siblings.
According to the California Chamber of Commerce, expanding the types of individuals or circumstances under which an employee can take a leave of absence under CFRA, through AB 2039, would only further increase the cost of doing business for employers in California.
We will continue to monitor the progress of this significant proposed change in the law.
Last week, a Sacramento jury awarded Ani Chopourian $168 million dollars in the largest judgment for a single victim of workplace harassment in U.S. history. The record judgment – $125 million in punitive damages and $42.7 million for lost wages and mental anguish – is being appealed by the hospital.
Chopourian worked for two years as a physician assistant at Sacramento’s Mercy General Hospital. She claimed she was subjected to at least eighteen harassing incidents. A bullying surgeon once stabbed her with a needle and broke the ribs of an anesthetized heart patient in a fit of rage. Another surgeon, she said, would greet her each morning with “I’m horny” and slap her bottom. Another called her “stupid chick” in the operating room and made disparaging remarks about her Armenian heritage, asking if she had joined Al Qaeda.
The hospital attempted to defend itself by claiming that Chopourian was guilty of professional misconduct, claiming that was why it fired her and tried to deny her unemployment benefits. But multiple witnesses testified to a culture of vulgarity and arrogance that humiliated female employees and put patients at risk.
The plaintiff was fired days after filing the last of her complaints about patient care and the doctors’ demeaning behavior. The evidence indicated that the hospital allowed surgeons to get away with harassment because cardiac surgery was the most lucrative aspect of the hospital’s operations.
The harassment, its impact on patient care, the hospital’s failure to properly respond to the plaintiff’s complaints, and the idea that doctors were held to a lower standard because they generated so much revenue obviously infuriated the jury.
This verdict serves as a powerful reminder of the critical need for employers to recognize and respond to harassment complaints. At minimum, employers should have strong anti-harassment and retaliation policies, train all employees on harassment at least annually, hold all employees to the same standard regarding allegations of harassment, and take all steps necessary to prevent retaliation, regardless of the merit of the underlying harassment complaint.