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 48 hours or six days (whichever is greater).
Starting on January 1, 2024, California employers are required to provide at least 40 hours of paid sick leave per year:
California employers cannot deny your right to use sick time or retaliate against you for using it. You may be able to file a lawsuit against your 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 I get if I work 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 days?
- 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, if you have 30 or more days of employment in a calendar year, you are likely eligible for paid sick leave (PSL).1
PSL is available whether you work
There may be some restrictions if:
- You work for the city, state, or U.S. government,
- You are subject to a collective bargaining agreement,
- You are an in-home supportive service provider, or
- You work for an air carrier.2
See our related article, “Stress Leave” in California – Are workers entitled to it?
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. You earn a minimum of 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
Starting on January 1, 2024, full-time employees should receive 40 hours (or five days) of paid sick leave per 12-month period.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
The number of sick days you have left must appear on your pay stub or document issued with your paycheck. Your employer must also have a poster stating your paid sick leave rights displayed in your workplace.
2.1. How many sick days do I get if I work part-time in California?
Employers must give part-time employees at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. You start accruing paid sick leave from your first day of work.5
2.2. Is there a waiting period for sick leave in California?
California law requires companies to allow you to take PSL no later than your 90th day of work. PSL can also carry over to the next year if you do not use your time.
Though employers can cap the total accrued paid sick leave at 48 hours (or 6 days). Plus employers can require that you take no more than 24 hours (or 3 days) of PSL per year.6
Starting on January 1, 2024, employers may cap annual accrual at 80 hours (or 10 days).7
2.3. How much do I get paid while out on paid sick leave?
If you are on paid sick leave in California, you receive your regular rate of pay on your regular payday.8 9
2.4. Can my employer provide different rules?
Your 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 you do not have to earn sick leave before taking it.10
Note that old plans are grandfathered in if your employer had a paid time off (PTO) plan that you 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 you if you still need time off from work or telework after your PSL has run out. Though if you take unpaid sick leave, you may still be protected from losing your job under California and federal leave laws like CFRA and FMLA.
Leave laws provide job protection for you (if eligible) when you take time off to care for a family member, because of an illness, or other covered leave reason. This means that you can return to the same or a substantially similar job when coming back from leave. Your employer cannot fire, threaten, or retaliate against you.12
Note that if you continue to stay home from work after using all of your leave time, your employer may consider that you abandoned the job. See our related article, Job abandonment in California – What is it and what is the law?
2.6. Do I get paid for unused PSL if I quit or get fired?
Your employer does not have to pay you for unused PSL (as they would for unused vacation time) if you are fired or quit. So unless your employer’s policy permits it, you cannot “cash out” unused sick time.
Note that if you leave your employer but then get rehired by them within one year, your accrued paid sick leave can be restored.
Learn more about vacation pay laws in California.
3. What qualifies as sick leave in California?
You may take paid sick leave in California to care not just for yourself but also for your:
- Child, stepchild, foster child, or adopted child;
- Spouse or registered domestic partner;
- Grandparent; or
- Designated person.
You may also use PSL to care for yourself or a family member in seeking a diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition, or for preventive care. (See our related article on California Paid Family Leave, which allows you to take paid time off to care for a seriously ill family member.)
- Relief for you or your 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 14
4. Can employers deny sick days?
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
Your employer also cannot require you to find a replacement as a condition to take PSL.16
Note that the law is unsettled regarding whether your employer can lawfully require a doctor’s note before granting you sick leave. Learn more in our article, Can an employer require a doctor’s note in California?
5. Can I sue my employer?
You can file a civil lawsuit if your employer fails to provide the required PSL time, fails to pay you during your accrued PSL, or otherwise violates sick leave policies.
Employers may also not retaliate against you for taking valid leave, cooperating in a labor violation investigation, or complaining about labor violations. Retaliation can manifest as:
- Threatening to fire you,
- Threatening to report immigration violations,
- Reducing pay, and/or
- Terminating you.
If your 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 will represent you on a contingency basis. This means the lawyer will not get paid until you do. Labor law violations may also require your employer to pay for your legal costs and fees.
5.1. What are the damages if my employer fired me?
You 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, you all may be able to bring a class action lawsuit against the employer.
For more information, refer to the following:
- Can an employer require a doctor’s note in California? – Article by our California employment law attorneys.
- What’s the Difference? Paid Sick Leave, FMLA, and Paid Family and Medical Leave – Comparison by the U.S. Department of Labor.
- Paid Sick Leave and Job Stability – Scholarly article by Work and Occupations.
- The Growing Costs and Burden of Family Caregiving of Older Adults: A Review of Paid Sick Leave and Family Leave Policies – Scholarly article by The Gerontologist.
- 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). Senate Bill 616.
- Labor Code 246. Senate Bill 114 (2022). This bill also explains the employer’s posting requirements to notify employees of the policy. See also FFCRA (Families First Coronavirus Response Act. See also Assembly Bill 1867 (2020) (now repealed).
- 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).
- Senate Bill 616.
- See note 1.
- Same. 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. Assembly Bill 1041.
- See note 4.
- Labor Code 246.5(c).
- See note 1.
- Labor Code 248.5.