California Sick Leave Laws

Sick leave is mandatory in California. Eligible employees can accrue paid sick leave to use when they are unable to work because of illness or to care for a family member.

California sick leave can be used for reasons other than illness, including:

Employers cannot deny an employee's right to use sick time or retaliate against an employee for using sick leave. An employee may be able to file a lawsuit against the employer for California sick leave violations.    

Below, our California employment and labor lawyers discuss the following frequently asked questions about sick leave for California employees:

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.

Sick leave
Under California sick leave laws, most employees are eligible to get paid sick leave.

1. Who is eligible for paid sick leave in California?

Under California law, most employees who work for 30 days or more within a year of starting work are eligible for paid sick leave. Employees are eligible to accrue sick leave hours to get paid while on leave for certain reasons, including caring for a family member or when the employee is ill and unable to work. 1

Paid sick leave 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 sick leave laws for regular employees, including:

  • Workers with a collective bargaining agreement,
  • In-home supportive service providers, and
  • Some employees of air carriers.2

2. How much sick leave can I take?

The amount of sick leave an employee can take depends on the employee, the employer, and the sick leave plan. There is a minimum standard required by California law; however, some employers provide additional sick leave or more generous sick leave conditions. Talk to your human resources department with any questions about your company's sick leave policies.

In addition to California paid sick leave laws, some cities and counties in California have additional sick leave laws that provide greater benefits. This includes cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Diego.3

2.1. How much paid sick leave do I get per year?

The amount of sick leave an employee can accrue per year depends on the individual's paid sick leave plan. At a minimum, California law requires 24 hours (or 3 days) of paid sick leave per year for full-time employees. Employees earn a minimum of 1 hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked.4

An employee is entitled to begin using accrued paid sick time beginning on the 90th day of employment.5

Paid sick leave can also be carried over to the next year if an employee does not use their sick leave. However, employers can put a cap on the total amount of accrued sick leave at 48 hours or 6 days. 6

2.2. Can my employer provide different sick leave rules?

An employer can provide for different sick leave rules but only where the employer's sick leave policy exceeds the minimum protections provided by California's leave laws. For example, an employer could allow an employee to accrue 2 hours of paid leave for every 40 hours worked. However, the employer could not have employees accrue less than 1 hour of leave for every 30 hours worked.

Certain plans were “grandfathered” in if the employer had a paid time off plan that employees could use for paid sick leave if that plan provided for at least as many paid sick days as required by the new law.7

2.3. What happens when my sick leave runs out?

When paid sick leave runs out and an employee still needs to recover from an illness or care for a family member, the employee will not necessarily be paid. However, the employee may still be protected from losing his or her job under California and federal leave laws.

California sick leave laws require payment for accrued sick leave. However, the employer is not required to keep paying the employee after the employee has used up his or her sick leave. The employee's job may still be protected even if he or she is not getting paid.

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 under protected leave laws.8910

3. Can I take sick leave to care for my sick child?

Even though it is generally referred to as “sick leave,” there are other reasons an employee is allowed to use paid sick leave, even if the employee is not sick. An employee can take paid sick leave to care for a family member. This includes:

  • Child, step-child, foster child, or adopted child;
  • Spouse or registered domestic partner;
  • Parent;
  • Sibling;
  • Grandchild; or
  • Grandparent.11

Paid sick leave can be used to care for a family member in seeking diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition, or for preventative care.

3.1. What are the permissible uses of taking paid sick leave?

In California, there are other permissible uses for taking paid sick leave. In addition to caring for a family member, or the employee's own medical condition, an employee who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking can use paid sick leave. This includes:

  • 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, stalking, or sexual assault.12

4. Can my employer say I have to work when I am sick?

Under the California Labor Code:

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.13

An employer also cannot require the employee find a replacement as a condition to take paid sick leave.14

5. Can I sue my employer for violating California's sick leave laws?

An employee may be able to file a civil lawsuit for violations of California labor laws. This includes failing to provide paid sick leave, provided less than the minimum paid sick leave required, or not paying an employee who is using accrued paid sick time.

Employers are also prohibited from retaliation against an employee for taking valid sick leave, cooperating in a labor violation investigation, or complaining about labor violations. Retaliation includes:

  • Demotion,
  • Threatening to fire the employee,
  • Threatening to report immigration violations,
  • Reducing pay, or
  • Terminating an employee.

If an employer retaliated against you for based on paid sick leave 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 for taking sick leave?

If there are violations of California sick leave laws, 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;
  • 3x 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.15

An employer who is violating sick leave laws may be violating the rights of other employees. In some cases, employees can be part of a class action lawsuit against the employer filed on behalf of multiple employees.

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For questions about sick leave laws in California 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.


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