Paid Time Off (PTO) in California
No, vacation leave is not required by any state law. Sick leave is required.
There is no federal or California state law that requires employers to provide either paid or unpaid vacation time for their employees. However, suppose employers choose to offer vacation leave to their employees, paid or unpaid. In that case, it must be under applicable state law, established company policy, or employment contract. Many employers implement some vacation benefits because it is one of the perks employees find most desirable.
In California, employers have the right to control their vacation pay responsibilities, so they can tell employees when to take the vacation and how much can be used at once. They can impose advance notice requirements or deny vacation approval for specific dates.
On the other hand, sick leave as PTO is required (more about that below in section Sick Leave in California).
Accruals are not mandated in California but are widely used by companies. An employer can cap (set the limit) the amount of vacation time employees may accrue over time.
Companies are free to adopt their own schedules for vacation accrual.
In case an employer has a policy, practice, or agreement to provide paid vacation, then certain restrictions are placed on the employer regarding how it fulfills its obligation to provide vacation pay. California law states that earned vacation time comes in wages, and vacation time is earned as work is performed. It is accrued proportionally as vacation entitlements over the year for each work day. It could be accumulated over a day, week, pay period, or another period determined by the employer. Because vacation is a form of postponed wages, they can’t be forfeited. Therefore, employers must pay all accrued or earned vacation upon separation from employment. (Suastez v. Plastic Dress Up, 31 Cal.3d 774 (1982))
An employer may place a cap (or ceiling) on vacation accrual to prevent employees from earning vacation time over a certain number of hours. An employer can also put specific requirements on paid vacation time, like a probationary period at the start of work during which an employee can’t accrue paid vacation benefits.
The Use-It-or-Lose-It policy is forbidden. Employers must let employees roll over unused leave into the following year.
California is one of the rare states (along with Montana and Nebraska) where the Use-It-or-Lose-It policy is forbidden. Therefore, it is illegal for an employer to put a “use-it-or-lose-it” into effect, an approach that requires an employee to forfeit any unused vacation time after a specific date (usually the end of the year). Vacation pay is another form of wages and can’t be taken away from employees under any use-it-or-lose-it plans.
On the other hand, an employer may impose a cap on the number of vacation days employees can accrue.
Payment of accrued, unused vacation on termination
All unused vacation time must be paid out. Sick leave isn’t considered wages.
California doesn’t require employers to provide vacation leave, but if an employer establishes a paid vacation policy, all earned and unused vacation time is treated as earned wages. An employer must deliver it to the employee on the final paycheck. An employee’s accrued vacation days can’t expire or be taken away regardless of the reason for the separation, despite what some employers may try to declare. Only if a collective bargaining agreement covers an employee will the collective bargaining agreement’s vacation benefit provisions apply. (Labor Code §227.3)
Sick leave is the only mandatory PTO, but it is not required to be paid out upon termination.
For example, Ronald in Sacramento has worked for a company for 2 years and has accrued 20 days of vacation time. If he is terminated, that earned vacation time is considered the same as wages, and Ronald would receive that vacation time paid out in dollars.
An employer is the one who pays for all earned and unused vacation time.
Sick Leave in California
Federal law – 12 weeks of unpaid sick leave. State laws – 1 hour of paid sick leave for 30 hours worked.
Federal Laws – Leave Quota
Up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks off for medical reasons or to care for a close family member suffering from a severe illness.
Employees who meet the following criteria are eligible for FMLA benefits:
- Have worked for their employer for at least 12 months (at least 25 hours per week) or 1,250 hours in the previous 12 months
- Work in a location where at least 50 people are employed by the company (within a 75-mile radius)
California State Laws – Paid Sick Leave
Employers in California are required to provide 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
Eligible employers and employees
California law requires all employers to provide paid sick leave to employees, regardless of size. The “Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014” is a law that requires employers to provide paid sick leave to employees who have worked for them for at least 30 days in California within a year of starting work. This includes all employees, part-time and temporary employees. However, there are exceptions. The law doesn’t apply to employees covered by qualifying collective bargaining agreements, employees of in-home supportive services providers, and some employees of airline companies.
Employees can start accruing paid sick leave on their first day of work, but they can only use it after working for an employer for at least 90 days.
So, in addition to FMLA, employees accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours of work if the employer picks an accrual type of leave. Employers can make this process easier by providing employees with 3 days (24 hours) of paid sick leave at the beginning of the year.
Carryover rules and cap
Employers must permit employees to carry over unused sick time yearly. On the other hand, employers can limit their total accrued sick leave to 48 hours and a usage limit of 3 days per year. An employer can also require an employee to take sick leave in increments of at least two hours, but not more than that.
Paid sick leave usage
The sick leave law in California allows employees to take sick leave for their health or a family member’s health, including preventative treatment. (Children, parents, spouses, registered domestic partners, grandchildren, grandparents, and siblings are all considered family members under California’s Paid Sick Leave law.) Employees who are victims of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault may also take sick leave.
In 2020, California changed the Kin Care Law to allow employees to specify whether they are taking sick leave for personal or kin care. Kin Care permits employees to use up to half (½) of the sick leave they accrue yearly to take time off to care for a sick family member. Employers must update their leave policies to inform employees that they can now designate their days off.
Using sick days as PTO
The employer’s policy determines this. Sick days are a distinct and guaranteed form of PTO in California, according to state law. Some employers may provide sick days that employees can use for any reason, or a combination of sick time and personal time that falls under one PTO umbrella.
Sick leave information
Employers must show how many sick days an employee has available on each pay stub or other written form. Employers must keep three years of records on sick leave accrual and use. The workplace must have a sick leave poster.
Payment of sick leave upon termination
Sick leave is not considered a wage, so when an employee leaves a company, the employer is not required to pay them for any unused sick leave they have accrued. Suppose an employer has an umbrella PTO policy (where sick, vacation, and personal days are one entity) that allows employees to use accrued PTO for personal reasons. In that case, sick leave becomes a wage.
Some cities offer more
Certain California cities have paid sick leave requirements that provide additional employee benefits. These cities are Berkeley, Emeryville, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Monica, and Sonoma County. Employers must generally follow the rule that is more generous to employees.
Payout of Sick Leave in California
An employer is the one who pays.
Maternity, Paternity, FMLA in California
Maternity and paternity leave are covered both by federal and state laws.
12 weeks of unpaid maternity/paternity leave provided by FMLA.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that mandates employers to provide at least 12 weeks of unpaid family leave following the birth or adoption of a child. In general, employees are qualified to take FMLA leave if they have worked for their employer for at least 12 months and at a location where they employ at least 50 employees within 75 miles. It is up to each employer to provide maternity leave benefits beyond the minimum federal requirements.
Additional State Laws in California
State laws enhance FMLA, and certain laws provide paid leave. Some laws overlap.
In addition to FMLA, maternity leave laws in California provide women with both unpaid and paid, job-protected time off from work for pregnancy and after pregnancy, birth, adoption, and foster care. Given the scope of California’s state time-off laws and the federal laws governing pregnancy leave, there’s a good chance that two (or more) laws will apply to the same employee time-off scenario.
The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) provides improved rights to the FMLA.
Leave types include:
1. Pregnancy Disability Leave
Pregnancy disability leave (PDL) in California is time away from work that employees can take if they are physically or mentally impaired due to their pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. PDL allows employees to take up to four months of unpaid time off.
This leave is available to all female employees in California if the company employs at least 5 people. Certain religious nonprofit organizations and corporations are not treated as “employers” for these purposes.
Pregnancy disability leave in California does not have to be taken all at once. Instead, it can be dispersed throughout the pregnancy or after childbirth.
A female employee is disabled by her pregnancy if, in the opinion of the doctor, she cannot perform any of the basic functions of her job because of her pregnancy. Most women will have some physical difficulty performing one or more of their job’s essential functions by the 36th week of pregnancy. Even sitting for long periods at a desk can be exhausting at that point. As a result, doctors frequently find their patients unable to work around week 36 (about 4 weeks before the due date).
Every woman is different, but for a vaginal birth with no complications, a 6-week recovery period is typical. If a cesarean section (c-section) or another type of traditional surgery is required, recovery time is typically 8 weeks (or longer).
Part-time employees are entitled to the same amount of pregnancy disability leave as full-time employees. Similarly, no minimum length of service is required to qualify for pregnancy disability leave, so even recently hired employees can take it.
Employees who use their right to take pregnancy disability leave are guaranteed a job in the same or a similar position when they return, unless there is a legitimate business reason. For example, if there was a mass layoff.
2. Family and Bonding Time Leave
Family leave (a.k.a. baby bonding leave). Men and women can use this leave to bond with a new child after birth, adoption, or foster care placement. Eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of family leave per year. To maximize the employee’s total period of maternity leave, an employee can take this leave after using any Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) to which she may be entitled. This way, they get up to seven months off for each pregnancy.
This “baby-bonding leave” is available to male, female, transgender, and nonbinary parents, as well as adoptive, foster, and same-sex parents.
Effective January 1, 2021, before an employee can take child-bonding leave, the following three requirements must be met:
- The employer must employ 5 or more employees;
- The employee must have worked more than 12 months for the employer before the date that the period of leave is taken;
- In the past year, the employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours for the employer.
Family leave does not need to be taken at once but must be completed within one year of the child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement. An employer can require an employee to take leave for a minimum of two weeks at a time. However, the law also gives the employee two opportunities to take intermittent leave of fewer than two weeks.
After their family leave ends, employees must return to their original – or a similar – job. Employers must also provide them with a reasonable opportunity to complete any training they may have missed.
3. Reasonable Accommodation Leave
California law requires covered employers to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities as part of the anti-discrimination rule. A reasonable accommodation is an adjustment to the employee’s work conditions to enable the employee to perform the job’s essential functions. Importantly for maternity leave, a “reasonable accommodation” can sometimes include a leave period, even after other types of leaves have been exhausted. In order to be eligible for reasonable accommodation during maternity leave, the employee must have a physical or mental disability that affects them in some way.
There are 4 requirements for employees to be eligible for reasonable accommodation:
- The employer must be covered by California’s anti-discrimination laws, which apply to businesses with 5 or more employees.
- The employee must have a qualifying physical or mental disability that impairs the employee’s ability to perform the essential functions of her job.
- If reasonable accommodation is provided, the employee must be able to perform the essential functions of her job.
- The reasonable accommodation would not cause the employer undue hardship.
Depending on the company, this time off may be paid or unpaid.
Courts have ruled that reasonable accommodations leave benefits should only be used as a last resort under state law.
Paid Maternity Leave
Employers are generally not required to pay employees’ wages while on maternity leave. Employees in California may, however, have a right to paid maternity leave in some circumstances:
- Medical Benefits
Employers must maintain employee medical benefits during pregnancy, disability-related leave, and family leave. This means that an employer offering group health plan coverage must continue to pay the same premiums paid while the employee was working.
- California’s State Disability Insurance (SDI)
California’s State Disability Insurance (SDI) program pays a portion of the usual wages while an employee is temporarily disabled, including by pregnancy and childbirth. SDI program only applies if the employee has a pregnancy or birth-related short-term disability. Employees qualified for SDI must have paid $300 or more into the program 5 to 18 months before the claim’s start date.
This program provides up to 6 weeks of leave. Currently, in 2022, SDI pays out from $230.95 to $1,539.71 per week. The money is typically funded through employee-paid payroll taxes and disability insurance programs (from a state fund).
- The Paid Family Leave Act
Within the first 12 months of a child’s arrival, the Paid Family Leave Act allows eligible employees to obtain partial pay while taking time off work to bond with a newborn baby, adopted child, or foster child. Effective July 1, 2020, an individual’s maximum duration of Paid Family Leave benefits was increased from six to eight weeks. Currently, in 2022, eligible employees can receive up to $1,357 per week.
- Using Accrued Paid Time Off
Employees have a right to use any vacation pay, sick pay, or other PTO they have accrued with their employer during maternity leave. An employer can even compel them to do so in some cases.
- Temporary Disability Pay
Employers in California are generally not required to pay employees while on pregnancy disability leave. However, if the employer voluntarily pays for other types of temporary disability leave for similarly situated employees, they may be required to pay for pregnancy disability leave as well.
- Company Policy
As a matter of policy, some companies offer paid maternity leave.
As we mentioned in maternity leave, some of these laws cover fathers too.
In California, there are 3 laws concerning paternity leave:
- The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)
- The California Family Rights Act (CFRA)
- The New Parent Leave Act (involves employers with 20 – 49 employees)
All three laws provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new fathers.
In general, California employers aren’t required to provide paid maternity leave. But, the money for SDI (State Disability Insurance) is paid from a state fund and refilled by payroll withholding from the employee’s paycheck.
Bereavement Leave in California
California doesn’t require employers to provide bereavement leave.
No federal or state law requires employers to provide paid or unpaid bereavement leave or time off to plan or attend a funeral of a close relative. The employer may decide to offer bereavement leave for employees; in that case, they may be required to follow any bereavement policy or practice they have in place. Employers usually allow 3 days of bereavement leave for a close family member who passed away. On the other hand, companies typically allow 1 day of bereavement leave for non-immediate family or friends.
Jury Duty Leave in California
Employers are obligated to provide unpaid time off for jury duty.
Although employers must let employees serve on a jury, an employer isn’t required to pay employees any wages for the time on jury duty. An employer may not fire or demote an employee for taking time off to serve as a juror. For time spent responding to a jury summons or serving on a jury, an employee may use vacation, personal, or compensatory leave if available.
A court will postpone the jury service of an employee of an employer with 5 or fewer full-time employees if another employee of the employer serves as a juror during the same period.
An employer may continue the salary during all or part of jury service, but neither federal nor state law requires an employer to do so.
Notice requirements apply (providing a copy of the jury summons as proof).
Cal. Lab. Code § § 230, 230.1
In California, employees who serve as jurors are paid $15.00 a day and a mileage reimbursement of $0.34 per mile (one way).
Jury duty is unpaid in California.
Military Leave in California
All employers must provide unpaid leave for military members.
All employers in the United States are governed by the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). USERRA protects members of the Army and Air National Guard who are called away from civilian jobs for federal service. Employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees who serve in the military. An employer may fire an employee only for a good reason for up to one year after returning from service.
California State Law
In addition to the federal law USERRA, California law provides the same unpaid leave and reinstatement rights for California and U.S. military members. All employers must provide military members with temporary unpaid leave during military duty. Employers may not terminate employees or limit any benefits or seniority because of a temporary disability resulting from duty in the National Guard or Naval Militia (up to 52 weeks).
Employees in the U.S. armed forces reserves, National Guard, or Naval Militia are entitled to 17 days’ unpaid leave per year for military drills, training, naval cruises, encampments, special exercises, or similar activities.
State Military Reserve members are entitled to 15 calendar days of unpaid leave per year.
Employers with more than 15 employees are required to provide up to 10 days (per year) of unpaid Civil Air Patrol leave to any employee who responds to an emergency operational mission of the Civil Air Patrol’s California Wing.
Employers with 25 or more employees must provide eligible spouses of military service members up to ten days of unpaid leave while their spouses are on leave from deployment. The spouse must work at least twenty hours a week on average to be eligible. Employers are prohibited from retaliating against a spouse who requests or takes leave.
Public employees have certain rights to paid leave and retention of benefits under Cal. Mil. & Vet. Code § 395, § 395.01-.05; § 395.1-.5, and § 395.8, -9.
Military leave is unpaid.
Voting Leave in California
Employer must provide enough time for voting leave; up to two hours are paid.
Full-time employees have the right to job-protected leave to serve on a jury, as a witness in a case, respond to a subpoena, or represent a plaintiff or defendant in court.
California law doesn’t specify a period of absence. Employees who don’t have sufficient time outside working hours to vote in an election may take enough time to vote. The time off to vote should be during the employee’s shift’s beginning or end, whichever provides more time to vote. Employers must only pay employees for up to two hours of voting leave.
Notice requirements apply. Employees who know they will need time off to vote must provide their employer with at least 3 working days’ notice.
Posting requirements also apply. At least 10 days before the election date, an employer should post notice conspicuously so that employees can see the law on their voting rights.
This is according to the Cal. Elec. Code § 14000, 14000-001, 14000-002.
An employer. Employees’ pay cannot be deducted for voting time.
California State Holidays for 2022
Neither paid nor unpaid holidays are guaranteed.
Employers in the private sector aren’t required to provide either paid or unpaid leave for national holidays. A private employer in California can require employees to work holidays. A private employer is not required to pay an employee premium pay for working on holidays, typically one and one-half times (150%) the regular rate, unless the time worked qualifies the employee for overtime under standard overtime laws. If an employer decides to offer either paid or unpaid holiday leave, it must follow its established policy or employment contract.
Complete list of official holidays recognized and celebrated by the state of California in 2022:
|Saturday, January 1||New Year’s Day *|
|Monday, January 17||Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (3rd Monday in January)|
|Monday, February 21||Presidents’ Day (3rd Monday in February)|
|Thursday, March 31||Cesar Chavez Day|
|Monday, May 30||National Memorial Day (Last Monday in May)|
|Monday, July 4||Independence Day|
|Monday, September 5||Labor Day (1st Monday in September)|
|Friday, November 11||Veterans’ Day|
|Thursday, November 24||Thanksgiving|
|Thursday, November 25||Day after Thanksgiving|
|Sunday, December 25||Christmas Day (Observed Monday, December 26) **|
* When a holiday falls on a Saturday, employees will receive holiday credit.
** When a holiday falls on a Sunday, the holiday is observed on the following Monday
- State of California Department of Industrial Relations – California Labor Commissioner’s Office, https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/
- All workers have rights in California, https://www.dir.ca.gov/letf/What_are_your_rights_as_a_worker.pdf
- California Payroll and Benefits Guide, https://www.papayaglobal.com/countrypedia/country/united-states-california/
- The California Employment Law Guide, https://joinhomebase.com/state-labor-laws/california/
- California Rules on Vacation and Paid Time Off, https://finvisor.com/california-pto-vacation/
- California Paid Sick Leave: Frequently Asked Questions, https://www.dir.ca.gov/dlse/Paid_Sick_Leave.htm
- Maternity Leave Law in California – A Simple Guide (2022), https://www.worklawyers.com/maternity-leave-law-california/
- Maternity Leave Law – Chart, https://akikothayer.files.wordpress.com/2015/01/pdl_and_pfl_chart_jul_2020.png
- California – Jury Duty Laws, Jury Selection, Juror Qualification, https://www.juryduty101.com/states/california
Updated: Jun 18, 2022
To learn more about laws in various countries, check out our Leave Laws page.