California sick leave laws grant employees at least one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers are permitted to cap annual sick leave accrual at 24 hours or three days (whichever is greater).
Assuming Senate Bill 144 gets passed, companies with more than 26 employees must grant workers up to two workweeks/80 hours of COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave to either:
- Recover from COVID-19;
- Seek a medical diagnosis from a health care provider after experiencing COVID-19 symptoms;
- Self-quarantine upon medical advice or because of a state or local order;
- Care for a family member with COVID-19 or who is self-quarantining;
- Care for a child whose school or daycare is closed for COVID-19 reasons; and/or
- Get vaccinated for COVID-19.
California employers cannot deny a covered employee’s right to use sick time or retaliate against an employee for using it. An employee may be able to file a lawsuit against the employer for California labor law violations.
Below, our California employment and labor lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions (faqs):
- 1. Who is eligible for paid sick leave in California?
- 2. How much paid sick leave can I take?
- 2.1. How many sick days do you get part-time in California?
- 2.2. Is there a waiting period for sick leave in California?
- 2.3. How much do I get paid while out on paid sick leave?
- 2.4. Can my employer provide different rules?
- 2.5. What happens when my sick leave runs out?
- 2.6. Do I get paid for unused PSL if I quit or get fired?
- 3. What qualifies as sick leave in California?
- 4. Can employers deny sick leave?
- 5. Can I sue my employer?
If you have further questions after reading this article, we invite you to contact us at Shouse Law Group. Also see our overview article on workplace leave laws in California.
1. Who is eligible for paid sick leave in California?
Under California state law, most exempt and non-exempt employees with 30 or more days of employment in a calendar year have eligibility for paid sick leave (PSL).1
PSL is available for full-time workers, part-time workers, and temporary employees. There are some restrictions for certain employees who do not fall under the California laws for regular employees, including:
- Federal employees and some state and city employees,
- Workers with a collective bargaining agreement,
- In-home supportive service providers, and
- Some employees of air carriers.2
2. How much paid sick leave can I take?
At a minimum, California law requires that full-time employees get 24 hours (or 3 days) of paid sick leave time per 12-month period. Employees earn a minimum of 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
Through September 30, 2021, California Senate Bill 95 requires companies with 26 or more workers to provide at least 80 hours of paid sick leave to full-time employees who need time off work for coronavirus-related reasons. These 80 hours are in addition to regular paid sick leave policies. And employers cannot force employees to use their regular PSL instead of their SB 95 supplemental paid sick leave.3
Note that certain California cities have sick leave ordinances that provide greater PSL benefits than state law requires, including:
- Berkeley: 48 hours PSL a year for employers with fewer than 25 employees; 72 hours PSL a year for employers with 25 or more employees.
- Emeryville: 48 hours PSL a year for employers with 55 or fewer employees; 72 hours PSL a year for employers with more than 55 employees.
- Los Angeles: 48 hours (6 days) PSL a year.
- Oakland: 40 hours PSL a year for employers with fewer than 10 employees; 72 hours PSL a year for employers with 10 or more employees.
- San Diego: 40 hours PSL a year.
- San Francisco: 48 hours PSL a year for employers with fewer than 10 employees; 72 hours PSL a year for employers with 10 or more employees.
- Santa Monica: 40 hours PSL a year for employers with fewer than 25 employees; 72 hours PSL a year for employers with 25 or more employees. 4
2.1. How many sick days do you get part-time in California?
Like full-time workers, part-time workers accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave for every hour worked.
Meanwhile, part-time employees with a regular weekly schedule are entitled to COVID-19 supplemental paid leave equal to the number of hours they work in two weeks. And part-time employees with changeable schedules are entitled to COVID-19 supplemental paid leave equal to seven times the average number of hours they worked per day over the past six months.5
2.2. Is there a waiting period for sick leave in California?
California law requires companies to allow their employees to take PSL no later than their 90th day of work. PSL can also carry over to the next year if an employee does not use their time.
But employers can cap the total accrued paid sick leave at 48 hours (or 6 days). And employers can require that employees take no more than 24 hours (or 3 days) of PSL per year.6
Note that employees can take SB 95 supplemental PSL for qualifying COVID reasons right away.7
2.3. How much do I get paid while out on paid sick leave?
Employees on paid sick leave in California receive their regular rate of pay.8
Meanwhile, the wages that employees receive while away on COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave depends on their status. Exempt employees receive their regular rate of pay. Meanwhile, non-exempt employees receive the highest of either:
- their regular rate of pay;
- their average pay over the past 90 days; or
- state or local minimum wage.
And the total non-exempt employees receive cannot exceed $511 per day and $5,110 in total.
Note that active firefighters could receive more hours of COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave. But their pay is also capped at $511 per day and $5,110 total.9
2.4. Can my employer provide different rules?
An employer’s paid sick leave requirements and policies must match California’s minimum requirements or provide a more generous amount of leave. Many employers elect to “front load” PSL so employee do not have to earn sick leave before taking it.10
Note that old plans are grandfathered in if the employer had a paid time off (PTO) plan that employees could use for PSL if that plan provided at least as many paid sick days as required by current law.11
2.5. What happens when my paid sick leave runs out?
California companies do not have to pay employees who still need time off from work or telework after their PSL has run out. But employees who take unpaid sick leave may still be protected from losing their job under California and federal leave laws like CFRA and FMLA.
Leave laws provide job protection for an eligible employee who takes time off to care for a family member, because of an illness, or other covered leave reasons. This means that an employee can return to the same or a substantially similar job when returning from leave. An employer cannot fire, threaten, or retaliate against an employee.12
2.6. Do I get paid for unused PSL if I quit or get fired?
Employers do not have to pay departing or terminated employees for unused PSL as they do for unused vacation time.
3. What qualifies as sick leave in California?
Employees in California may take paid sick leave to care not just for themselves but also for a:
- Child, stepchild, foster child, or adopted child;
- Spouse or registered domestic partner;
- Grandchild; or
Employees may also use PSL to care for themselves or a family member in seeking a diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition, or for preventive care.
- Relief for the employee or his or her child, including a restraining order;
- Medical attention for related injuries;
- Services from a domestic violence shelter or rape crisis center;
- Psychological counseling; or
- Safety planning against future domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.13
3.1. Do I have to have COVID-19 to take SB 95 supplemental paid sick leave?
No. Other qualifying reasons to take COVID-19 supplemental PSL include:
- Healing from and seeking health care for coronavirus;
- Getting an FDA-approved coronavirus vaccine;
- Caring for a family member is quarantining or who is sick with coronavirus;
- Seeking a diagnosis after having coronavirus symptoms;
- Self-quarantining following a government order or a doctor’s advice; and/or
- Caring for a child whose daycare or school has closed due to the coronavirus.14
4. Can employers deny sick leave?
No. The California Labor Code states:
An employer shall not deny an employee the right to use accrued sick days, discharge, threaten to discharge, demote, suspend, or in any manner discriminate against an employee for using accrued sick days, attempting to exercise the right to use accrued sick days, filing a complaint with the department or alleging a violation of this article, cooperating in an investigation or prosecution of an alleged violation of this article, or opposing any policy or practice or act that is prohibited by this article.15
An employer also cannot require the employee to find a replacement as a condition to take PSL.16
5. Can I sue my employer?
Employees can file a civil lawsuit if their employer fails to provide the required PSL time, fails to pay employees during their accrued PSL, or otherwise violates sick leave policies.
Employers may also not retaliate against employees for taking valid leave, cooperating in a labor violation investigation, or complaining about labor violations. Retaliation can manifest as:
- Threatening to fire the employee,
- Threatening to report immigration violations,
- Reducing pay, and/or
- Terminating an employee.
If an employer retaliated against you based on PSL or protected leave, talk to a California labor and employment lawyer about your case and how to get the money you are owed.
Many California employment lawyers represent workers on a contingency basis. This means the lawyer will not get paid until you do. Labor law violations may also require the employer to pay for the employee’s legal costs and fees.
5.1. What are the damages if my employer fired me?
An employee can seek money damages and equitable relief, including reinstatement. Damages in a labor law case may include:
- Back pay;
- Payment for withheld sick days;
- Administrative penalties;
- Three times the liquidated damages for wrongfully withheld sick days (up to a maximum of $4,000);
- Interest on back pay; and
- Reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.17
If there are multiple employees being underpaid or retaliated against, they may be able to bring a class action lawsuit against the employer.
For questions or to discuss your case confidentially with one of our skilled California labor and employment attorneys, do not hesitate to contact us at Shouse Law Group.
We have local employment law offices in and around Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, San Jose, Oakland, the San Francisco Bay area, and several nearby cities.
- Healthy Workplace Healthy Families Act of 2014 (HWHFA, a.k.a. “California’s permanent paid sick time law”), California Labor Code 245. Also see the California Labor Commissioner website.
- CA Labor Code section 245.5(a)
- Labor Code 246. SB-95, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on March 19, 2021. It remains in effect through September 30, 2021. SB-95 also explains the employer’s posting requirements to notify employees of the policy. See also FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act
- Senate Bill 114 (2022). Taryn Luna, New COVID-19 sick pay for California workers approved by lawmakers, Los Angeles Times (February 8, 2022). City of Los Angeles Wage Standards Ordinance and City & County of San Francisco Ordinance. Paid Sick Leave, Berkeley Housing and Community Services Department. Official Notice, San Diego Earned Sick Leave. Emeryville Minimum Wage Ordinance. Santa Monica Minimum Wage. Paid Sick Leave Ordinance San Francisco. Oakland Sick Leave Law.
- See note 3.
- Labor Code 246.
- See note 4. SB 95 is retroactive to January 2, 2021. Taryn Luna and Melody Gutierrez, COVID-19 sick pay in California would return under deal between Newsom, lawmakers, Los Angeles Times (January 25, 2022).
- See note 1.
- See note 4.
- See note 1.
- State of California Department of Labor: Frequently Asked Questions. New Questions Concerning the PSL Law.
- Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2601; California Family Rights Act (CFRA); see also the Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (Cal/OSHA ETS), DIR (employers are required to provide employees “exclusion pay” in certain circumstances). See also ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) and FEHA (Fair Employment and Housing Act).
- Labor Codes 245.5, 230, 230.1, 246.5.
- See note 4.
- Labor Code 246.5(c).
- See note 1.
- Labor Code 248.5.