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Helping You Navigate Workplace Issues in California

Sick Leave: Your Rights Under California Law


The last thing any employee wants to worry about when they are sick and battling a medical condition is the security of their employment. As a California employee, you may wonder, what are your rights for sick leave under state and federal law. We explore below.

Federal Law

The federal government does not require private employers to offer any form of paid sick leave to its workers. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) does entitle certain eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to deal with certain personal and family medical situations. If you work for a California business that employs at least 50 people, and you have worked for that same employer for at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, you may be entitled to FMLA leave. (California provides a similar state law called the California Family Rights Act).

California Law

In sharp contrast to the federal government’s hands-off approach to sick leave, California maintains a robust paid sick leave program. All employers, regardless of size, must offer paid sick leave. Individual employees are eligible for leave if they have worked for the same employer at least 30 days during the year within California. For employees hired on or after July 1, 2015, paid sick leave starts to accrue from the first day of employment, although employees must work for the employer at least 90 days before taking any leave.

Leave generally accrues at the rate of 1 hour for every 30 hours worked. Individual employers may alter this formula, however, provided the employee still accrues at least 24 hours–i.e., 3 working days–of paid sick leave after 120 calendar days of employment. Employers may also opt for a “no accrual” leave policy that simply gives each employee three days of paid sick leave at the start of each year of employment.

Keep in mind, although paid sick leave accrues, an employer does not have to pay for any unused time when the employee leaves the company. That said, an employee may choose to “carryover” unused leave from one year to the next, although the employer may cap such accrual at 48 hours (i.e., 6 working days). In addition, if an employee leaves and returns to the employer within one year, any previously accrued paid sick leave must still be made available to the employee.

Also note that these paid sick leave rules apply at the state level. Some California cities impose their own, more generous paid sick leave policies. Individual employers may also choose to go above-and-beyond the state’s requirements in fashioning their own leave policies. And if the employer maintains a “paid time off” policy that covers both vacation and illness, that may be sufficient to comply with California’s paid sick leave requirements.

If you have questions or concerns about your own employer’s paid sick leave policies and whether they meet all state and local requirements, you should contact a qualified California employment law attorney as soon as possible.


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* Cathleen Scott is licensed to practice in Florida only.

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