What Are Your Sick Leave Rights in California?

Everyone gets sick. Unfortunately, rather than showing sympathy for this normal part of the human condition, some employers demand constant and superhuman availability and fire employees for even a few unscheduled absences. Other times, employees are concerned that missing work will jeopardize their chances at promotions and other employment benefits.

If you’re experiencing hardship at work because you missed work because of an illness, it’s important to know your rights.

The Basics of California Paid Sick Leave Law

California employees have numerous rights, including freedom from discrimination and the right to be paid for all hours worked. Employers sometimes ignore these rules, either for their own selfish reasons or because they are not educated on your rights. Either way, when it comes to asserting your right to paid sick leave, it is important to know your rights.

How Much Paid Sick Leave am I Entitled to in California?

Since 2014, the Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act of 2014 (HWHFA) has required employers to provide paid sick leave to all employees who work for 30 or more days within a 12-month period.

California law requires employers to provide at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. For full-time workers, this works out to at least three days of paid sick leave per year. Your employer must allow you to use at least three days of paid sick leave per year. You must be allowed to roll over accrued but unused sick leave into the following year, although your employer can cap the amount of paid sick leave you can rollover at 48 hours, or six days.

If you work in one of the many cities or counties with laws providing additional paid sick leave, you may be entitled to more paid time off. For example, you may have the right to additional paid sick time if you work in the following places:

  • Los Angeles: 48 hours a year or 6 days paid sick leave
  • Santa Monica: 40 hours per year (for smaller employers) and 72 hours per year (for larger employers)
  • Emeryville: 48 hours a year (for smaller employers) and 72 hours a year (for larger employers)
  • Oakland: 40 hours a year (for smaller employers) and 72 hours a year (for larger employers)
  • San Francisco: 48 hours a year (for smaller employers) and 72 hours a year (for larger employers)

Many employers choose to “front load” paid sick leave and make available all three days of paid sick leave on a certain date in each calendar year. An example would be if your employer adds three days of paid sick leave to your first paycheck of the year. However, this is not required, and your employer can accrue paid sick leave over the course of the year.

Employers are also allowed to impose a waiting period of up to 90 days to use your paid sick leave.

Can I used Paid Sick Leave to Care for Family Members?

Yes. Under California’s Kin Care Law, you are allowed to use paid sick leave to care to take any of the following family members to the doctor or to provide care to them while they are sick or disabled:

  • A child, step-child, foster child, or adopted child;
  • A spouse or registered domestic partner;
  • A parent;
  • A sibling;
  • A grandchild;
  • A grandparent.

Can I Use Paid Sick Leave for Other Types of Emergency Time Off?

Yes. You can use your paid sick leave if you are the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking and need to obtain a restraining order, medical attention, psychological counseling, services from a domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center, or safety planning in case of future domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.

Can My Employer Demand that I Come to Work When I Say I Want to Use Paid Sick Time?

No. It is illegal for your employer to deny you the right to use your paid sick leave. Your employer also cannot retaliate against you for using your paid sick leave.

You cannot be required to find a replacement before using paid sick leave. (So when your employer demands you find someone to “cover” your shift, you can politely tell them no.)

Does My Employer Have to Pay Me for Unused Paid Sick Leave When I Quit or Am Fired?

No. Unlike PTO or vacation time, your employer does not have to pay you for accrued but unused paid sick time upon termination.

Is a Combined PTO and Sick Leave Policy Legal?

Yes, your employer is allowed to combine paid sick leave and PTO into a single “bank,” provided they provide at least the minimum amount of paid sick leave required by law.

What Can I Do If I Am Retaliated Against or Fired for Using Sick Leave? Can I Sue My Employer?

Yes. Your employer cannot demote you, threaten to fire you, threaten to report you to immigration authorities, cut your pay, fire you, or retaliate against you in any other way for using paid sick leave. If this happens, you should talk to an experienced employment attorney as soon as possible.

You may be entitled to lost wages, payment for withheld sick days, liquidated damages of up to $4,000 for withheld sick days, and reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.

If your employer does not provide sick leave to many of its employees, you may also be able to file a class action lawsuit seeking these remedies on behalf of yourself and your co-workers.

Am I Entitled to Additional Paid Sick Leave for COVID-19?

Maybe. If you work for a California employer with more than 25 employees, you are entitled to use up to 80 hours of COVID-19-related paid sick leave between January 1, 2021 and September 30, 2021. 

Additional Unpaid Time Off Under the FMLA, CFRA, ADA, and FEHA

You also may be entitled to additional unpaid time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or its California equivalent, the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). Both of these laws provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from your job during any 12-month period, if you have worked for 1,250 hours at a covered employer.

These laws generally require your employer to hold your job or a similar job open for you if you take leave to care for your own serious health condition, an ill or disabled family member, or a new child.

If you have an ongoing illness or disability, your employer may also be required to provide additional unpaid leave as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or California equivalent, the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Whether you are entitled to this additional unpaid leave is a fact-specific inquiry and you should talk to an attorney to learn your rights.

Our Employment Lawyers Fight for California Workers

At King & Siegel LLP, we have helped hundreds of workers hold employers accountable through legal actions. If you have been denied sick leave or wrongfully terminated in violation of the paid sick leave laws, the FMLA, the CFRA, or other anti-discrimination laws, our attorneys are here to help.

Need legal help? We provide free, confidential consultations to California workers. You should contact us as soon as possible to make sure your claim is still within the time limits set by law. If you have experienced discrimination or your employer has wrongfully denied you sick leave, contact us today through our website or give us a call at (213) 214-3757 to schedule a free consultation.

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