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What are California Paid Sick Leave Laws?

Table of Contents for Specific Topics

Thanks to the 2014 Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act, employers in the state of California are required to provide their covered employees with sick pay. For every thirty hours an employee works, they earn one hour of sick leave. However, employers are allowed to limit employees to 24 hours of sick leave in a year. Sick leave may be used for a myriad of reasons including:

  • Tending to an illness
  • Recovering from an injury
  • Seeking a medical diagnosis
  • Tending to an ill or injured relative
  • Self-quarantining due to COVID-19 exposure
  • Dealing with the complications of abuse, assault, or stalking


California Paid Sick Leave Requirements

There are some requirements and limitations for obtaining paid sick leave:

  • Full time and part time employees including temps and seasonal workers are covered provided they worked for the employer at least thirty days within a twelve month period.
  • Employees earn an hour of paid sick leave for ever thirty hours they work with few exceptions.
  • Employers are allowed to limit employees to 24 hours of paid sick leave each year.
  • Accrued sick time must be rolled over into the new year, however employers may limit the amount to 48 hours.
  • Employers are not required to carry over unused lump sum paid sick time.


Employers Obligation to Paid Sick Leave Laws

There are many things that California employers must do in order to comply with the Department of Industrial Relations such as:

  • Have a poster explaining paid sick leave posted where all employees can easily read it.
  • Have a written explanation of paid sick leave policies given to new employees when they are hired.
  • Allow employees to earn an hour of paid sick time for every thirty hours worked.
  • Provide earned sick leave at the employee’s request.
  • Keep employees informed of how much sick time they have, either as part of their paystub or provided on each pay day.
  • Maintain records of employees’ sick time both accrued and used going back three years.


Who is Covered by California Paid Sick Leave Laws?

The HWHFA covers all of California, but there are some exceptions depending on the job, circumstances, and even location. Generally, a California employee is covered if they have worked for the same employer for at least 30 days within a year regardless of if they are full or part time. Temporary and seasonal workers are also generally covered when they meet this requirement. If an employee is covered and then leaves a job, but then returns within a year, they will be covered as soon as they are rehired.

Exceptions, exemptions, and restrictions may apply to:

  • Government employees
  • Employees working under specific collective bargaining agreements
  • Home care support workers
  • Air carrier workers

Cities with their own sick leave ordinances are bound by both local and state regulations such as:

  • Berkeley
  • Emeryville
  • Los Angeles
  • Oakland
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • Santa Monica


How Much Paid Sick Time Can Be Earned?

Generally speaking, California sick leave law requires that employees be given 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours that they work. The amount of paid sick leave an employee can earn may be capped at 48 hours per year, though employers are allowed to cap it at as low as 24 hours. There are however some cities that have their own laws and regulations regarding paid sick leave:

  • Oakland

< 10 Employees = 40 hours sick leave per year

> 10 employees = 72 hours sick leave per year

  • San Francisco

< 10 Employees = 48 hours sick leave per year

> 10 employees = 72 hours sick leave per year

  • Berkley

< 25 Employees = 48 hours sick leave per year

> 25 employees = 72 hours sick leave per year

  • Santa Monica

< 25 Employees = 40 hours sick leave per year

> 25 employees = 72 hours sick leave per year

  • Emeryville

< 55 Employees = 48 hours sick leave per year

> 55 employees = 72 hours sick leave per year

  • San Diego

All employees receive at least 40 hours sick leave per year

  • Los Angeles

All employees receive at least 48 hours sick leave per year


Ways to Earn Paid Time Off

There are several different ways that employers may decide to provide sick leave for their employees:

Statutory Accrual – Paid sick time begins accruing the first day of employment. At the minimum of 1 hour earned for every 30 hours worked, a standard 40 hour workweek would result in 1.33 hours earned.

Other Accrual – Employers may develop their own system for accruing paid sick time provided that the hours are received on a regular basis and result in at least 24 hours within the first 120 days after the employee is hired.

Lump Sum – Some employers may opt to just give employees all of their sick time at the beginning of each year. This does not mean that it has to be every January. Employers are permitted to decide which date to use as the start of the new year so long as it is consistently every 12 months. Many employers may choose the employee’s hire date as lump sum overtime must be given to new employees within 120 days of being hired.

Existing PTO Policy – Some employers may have separate vacation and sick time while others may combine them as one paid time off total. So long as the amount of time given meets the minimum requirements for paid sick leave, it is permissible.

Grandfathered Policies – There are some policies that had been established before 2015 that are permitted to remain in place afterwards provided that:

  • Paid time off is accrued by at least 8 hours every 3 months
  • Paid time off is earned by at least 24 hours within 9 months


Types of Paid Sick Leave in California

There are many different reasons why an employee may need to take sick leave. These reasons are often due to a personal illness or injury, the need to take care of an ill or injured relative, or even the complications that arise from being the victim of domestic violence. There are different types of paid leave depending on the details of the situation.


PSL – Paid Sick Leave

California state law maintains that all eligible employees receive at least 24 hours of paid time off every year in case of:

  • The need to heal from a personal illness or injury
  • The need to receive preventive care
  • The need to seek a diagnosis or receive treatment
  • The need to take care of a relative in the above situations

Eligible employees meet the following requirements:

  • Full-time, part-time, temporary, or seasonal employees
  • Are employed in the state of California
  • Have worked for the employer in question for at least 30 days within a year
  • Have been employed by the employer in question for 90 days prior to taking leave

Employers are permitted to have their own policies and accrual methods provided that they meet the minimum requirements set out by the law. Some cities have their own laws added to the state law that provide higher minimums in certain situations.


SPSL – Supplemental Paid Sick Leave for COVID-19 (Expired)

In 2021 and 2022, new laws were put in place so that employees could receive additional separate paid leave in order to quarantine and recover from COVID-19.


Other Paid Leave Options

Vacation pay is one of the most well-known types of paid time off. In the state of California, it is completely optional. There is currently no law that states that an employer must have a paid or even unpaid vacation time policy. However, there are laws in place for employers who do have such policies, to ensure that those policies are being followed.

Workers’ compensation is an insurance policy that all employers must have to care for employees who suffer illness or injury due to their job.


What Reasons Qualify for Paid Sick Leave in California?

Employees have the right to utilize their sick time when needed and do not need to provide an explanation to their employer as to the reason why. There are many reasons that a person may need to take sick leave such as:

  • Being ill or injured
  • Receiving preventive care
  • Seeking a diagnosis or treatment
  • Taking care of an ill or injured family member
  • Complications caused by abuse, assault, or stalking

The definition of family member is broad and, in some areas, even broader. The law allows an employee to utilize their sick pay to care for their immediate and extended family as well as designated persons who may not be related by blood or law but are considered part of the family.

Employees who are experiencing or have experienced abuse, assault, or stalking may need to utilize their sick time in order to:

  • Get a restraining order
  • Go to a shelter or crisis center
  • Tend to related injuries
  • Receive mental health care
  • Take preventative measures against future incidents


Paid Sick Leave Considerations

Accrual Cap – Employers are permitted to limit the amount of sick leave an employee can earn in a year at 24 to 48 hours.

Increment Minimums – Sometimes, employees need to use sick leave for something like a short doctor visit that may not require them to take the entire day. They may only want to use up an hour or so of their sick time. Employers are allowed to impose minimum increments as high as two hours.

Limits – Employers are permitted to limit employees to utilizing only 24 hours or 3 days a year, whichever is more. For an employee whose daily shifts are regularly 8 hours, this amounts to 3 days at 24 hours total. However, an employee who regularly works 10 hour days may utilize 3 days at 30 hours a year. But for an employee who only works 4 to 6 hour shifts, they may take more than 3 days to reach 24 hours.

Waiting Periods – Employers are permitted to impose waiting periods of up to 90 days after the date of hire before a new employee is permitted to utilize accrued paid sick leave. However, even if this waiting period is in place, sick time is still earned starting the date of hire. If the sick pay policy provides leave as a lump sum, the employer has 120 days in which they can wait to provide leave to a new employee.


How to Determine Pay for Paid Leave

When a nonexempt employee utilizes their paid sick leave, they must receive their normal rate of pay. If the employee is paid weekly, then the non-overtime rate of pay would be divided by the amount of non-overtime hours they worked that week. Another method for determining rate of pay is to take the amount of money earned for the previous 90 days and divide that by the number of hours worked, excluding overtime. For exempt employees, sick time should be paid the same way any other paid time off is handled.


Does Paid Sick Time Accrue Each Year?

If an employee does not utilize all of their accrued sick time within a year, the amount left over is carried into the next year. However, this does not necessarily mean that sick time is unlimited. Employers are permitted to limit the amount of sick time an employee can earn up to 48 hours. If an employer provides lump sum sick time, unused time does not have to be carried over into the next year.


Does Paid Sick Leave Get Paid if an Employee Gets Fired or Quits?

While employers must pay their employees for any unused vacation time when they quit or are fired, California state law does not require employers to pay their employees out for unused sick time at the end of employment.


Does Paid Sick Time Reinstate with Seasonal Work?

If an employer does not pay out an exiting employee’s unused sick time and then that employee returns to that same job within a year, the employer is required to restore any unused sick time they had when they left. If the employer did pay out that time, they do not have to restore it.


What if I already Have Paid Time Off?

Some employers have their own policies and systems in place to provide their employees with paid time off. There are several instances wherein such employers have their own way of handling sick leave that must adhere to certain standards such as:

  • If the policies in place provide paid time off of at least 24 hours a year and permit employees to use that time for health care needs, then they do not need to provide additional specific sick leave
  • If the employer has its own sick leave policy or multiple plans and policies, they must follow the legal outlines for accrual and usage
  • If the policies exceed the legal requirements and have their own terms and conditions, they must clearly specify what those terms are


What if Paid Sick Leave Time Runs Out?

When an employee utilizes all of their paid sick leave, the employer is not required to provide them with more. However, if the employee takes unpaid time off to deal with health related issues, there are some state and federal laws that may protect them. The California Family Rights Act and the Family Medical Leave Act allow for eligible employees to take health care related unpaid leave without the fear of losing their job or being retaliated against by their employer.


Can Employers Deny Sick Days?

Employers are not legally permitted to forbid their employees for taking sick days. They are also not permitted to retaliate against employees for requesting or taking sick days. Employees are also not responsible for finding their own replacement when taking sick days. There are however some variables concerning whether or not an employer can require their employees to provide a doctor’s note.


How to Deal with an Employer Who Denies Sick Days or Fails to Pay Sick Leave?

If an employer does not provide their employees with paid sick leave, tries to deny sick leave, does not pay for utilized sick time, or commits other violations of sick leave laws, then the employees can file a civil suit against them.

Sometimes, employers may try to retaliate against employees for taking sick leave, filing complaints, or participating in investigations by:

  • Demoting them
  • Cutting their hours
  • Making threats
  • Blackmailing them
  • Termination

If an employer retaliates against an employee for exercising their rights, that employee can pursue legal action against them.


Damages for Being Retaliated Against for Taking Paid Sick Leave

There are many different types of damages that an employee may sue for when their employer violates their sick leave rights or retaliates against them such as:

  • Back pay
  • Interest
  • Unpaid sick time
  • Up to 3 times damages for unpaid sick time, up to $4k
  • Administrative penalties
  • Attorney’s fees


Contact Mesriani if You Have Been Denied Sick Time

In the state of California, employers are legally required to provide eligible employees with paid sick leave. Unfortunately, some employers may refuse to allow their employees to utilize their leave or retaliate against them for doing so. In these situations, it may be best to seek help from an employment attorney. Our lawyers have the experience necessary to advise you through your difficult situation and help you receive the compensation you deserve. If your rights to paid sick leave have been violated, call Mesriani Law Group today for a free consultation.


Paid Sick Leave FAQs

What is the new sick leave law in California?

In response to the pandemic, laws were enacted to give people the opportunity to quarantine and recover if they tested positive for COVID. In 2021, the Supplemental Paid Sick Leave For COVID-19 law was put in place to provide employees with two weeks of additional paid leave specifically for COVID. Another law was implemented in 2022 extending this benefit to the end of the year.

How many sick days do you get in California 2022?

The California paid sick leave law as of 2022 is that employers must provide eligible employees with no less than three days or 24 hours of paid time off each year for heal care related matters. Employers are allowed to provide those hours as a lump sum at the beginning of each year or require their employees to accrue them over time at a rate of one hour earned for every 30 hours worked.

How do sick days work in California?

Every year, eligible employees receive at least 24 hours of paid sick time. Employees are permitted to utilize those hours for the sake of their own health care or to care for a family member. Employers are not permitted to refuse an employee’s right to paid sick leave or retaliate against the employee for exercising that right. When an employee leaves their job, their employer is not obligate to pay them for any unused sick time.

How many sick days can you get without a doctor's note in California?

You are not obligated to explain to your employer exactly why you are utilizing your paid sick days, and they are not permitted to deny your request for sick leave. However, there are occasions where they may require a doctor’s note, especially if you take multiple days off in a row. There is some back and forth on this issue within the law. Essentially, your employer can ask for a doctor’s note, but they can not retaliate against you for not providing one.

About the Author
Picture of Rodney Mesriani
Rodney Mesriani

Rodney Mesriani is the principal partner of the Los Angeles and Santa Monica based Mesriani Law Group. He specializes in personal injury and employment law while also being an accomplished litigator and trial attorney. Rodney is an aggressive negotiator and a well-known and respected attorney in the areas of practice he specializes in.

He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Accounting from California State University Northridge before attending Southwestern School of Law where he received his Juris Doctorate. While being an accomplished personal injury and employment lawyer, Rodney Mesriani has made it a point to attend numerous State Sponsored MCLE events and seminars over the years as a law practitioner to be informed of the latest laws and litigation strategies.



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