California does not require paid time off for employees for vacation time; however, there are laws that employers must adhere to if they provide paid leave. Additionally, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against those who receive paid time off based on race, gender, religion, or disability. Unpaid time off is legally required for particular medical circumstances, such as maternity leave if employees meet specific employment criteria.

What Is Paid Time Off?

Employers have complete discretion concerning the number of paid-off days that could range annually, from days to weeks. Additionally, employers can require paid time off after employees have been working for the company for a time period or have unused time off accrued the following year.

Concerning paid time off, Labor Code 227.3 provides regulations for vacation days, including:

  • Vacation days never expire— An employer must allow employees to bank unused PTO days and save them for later. The “use-it-or-lose-it” law is illegal in California. Therefore, employers must honor PTO even if it has been accrued for months or years.
  • Employment termination with unused PTO— Earned vacation days are equivalent to earned wages under California law. Therefore, if an employee leaves their job, whether they quit or get fired, they have a right to compensation for any unspent vacation hours. This PTO compensation must be paid at the employee’s regular pay rate and cover all accrued PTO.

While employers are not mandated to require PTO or vacation days, they are subject to California legislation. Thus, employers must provide PTO for certain medical circumstances.

Paid Time Off For Sick Days

In California, employees (including part-time and seasonal employees) who work more than 30 days qualify for paid sick leave. For every 30 hours worked, employees will gain one hour of paid sick leave. Under the Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act of 2014 (AB 1522), employers must allow accrued PTO for sick leave and keep proper documentation of how many sick days each employee has earned. Employees can use PTO for sick days under the following conditions:

  • Diagnosis, care, or treatment for any existing health conditions or the existing health condition of a family member
  • The employee’s preventative care or the preventative care of a family member
  • Seeking medical attention for any injuries

Employers must pay employees for sick days the same as their regular pay rate; however, certain circumstances like extended sick leave can have exceptions and adjustments.

What Is Unpaid Time Off?

California requires employers to allow up to 12 weeks of unpaid days off for certain medical circumstances. This includes;

  • Family emergencies
  • Medical emergencies
  • Caring for a newborn child, or
  • Undergoing necessary medical treatment.

Under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, unpaid time off can extend up to 26 weeks for employees who need to care for a spouse or other family member who suffered an injury or contracted a severe illness while serving in the military.

While employers hold discretion on when employees can take unpaid time off, it is illegal for employers to deny requests if the employee has worked consecutively for their company for over a year or has logged a minimum of 1,250 hours for them during the preceding 12 months.

Can An Employer Deny Unpaid Time Off?

If a time off request does not qualify for legal time off, such as sick days or maternity leave, the employer does not have to accept the request. However, the employer does have to provide a reasonable claim for denying the request. Consequently, an employer can be penalized or fined for refusing a request that falls under legal time off.

Stress Leave In California

If an employee wishes for time off due to stress, it will fall under workers’ compensation. Employees must satisfy strict requirements before qualifying for workers’ compensation. The employee must be medically diagnosed with mental health or psychiatric disorder that needs treatment and provide proof that this medical diagnosis arose or worsened due to work or work-related circumstances.

Under Labor Code 3208.3, additional requirements to qualify for workers’ compensation include:

  • The employee has worked for the employer for at least six months
  • The employees’ medical disorder psychiatric condition(s) outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V)
  • The employee can show that the actual circumstances of that employment caused the psychiatric condition or worsened it.
  • The employee does not quote personnel actions that the employer took in good faith (e.g., reasonable criticism of your punctuality, attendance, or decisions about qualifying for a raise or promotion) as a cause of the condition.

Employers must provide paid time off for employees approved of worker’s compensation. If the employee’s request does not qualify for worker’s compensation, then the employee can take unpaid time off and have job security under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

Contact Pride Legal

If you or a loved one has more questions regarding paid and unpaid time off for employees in California, we invite you to contact us at Pride Legal for legal counseling or any further inquiries. To protect your rights, hire someone who understands them.