Your Right to Time Off Work in California

Your employer must provide you with leave for certain purposes in California.

By , J.D. · UC Berkeley School of Law

In addition to the leave provided by your employer's discretionary policies on vacation time, sick leave, personal days, or paid time off (PTO), you may have a legal right to take time off work for specific reasons under federal and California laws. For example, if you are caring for an ailing family member or recovering from childbirth, you may have a right to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

California has some of the most generous state leave laws in the nation. In California, employees have the right to paid sick days, pregnancy disability leave, time off to attend a child's school activities, domestic violence leave, and more.

California Laws on Family and Medical Leave

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year:

  • to care for a seriously ill family member (spouse, parent, or child)
  • recuperate from their own serious health conditions
  • bond with a new child, or
  • handle certain practical matters arising from a family member's military service.

The FMLA also requires employers to give employees up to 26 weeks off to care for a spouse, parent, or child who suffered or exacerbated a serious illness or injury while serving in the military. (For purposes of this military family leave provision only, employees may also take leave to care for a "next of kin," which might be a sibling, grandparent, cousin, or other blood relative.)

The FMLA applies to employers in all states with at least 50 employees. Employees are eligible only if they have worked for the employer for at least 12 months, have worked 1,250 hours in the 12 months before taking leave, and work at a location with 50 employees within a 75-mile radius. (Learn much more about your rights under the FMLA at our Taking Family and Medical Leave page.)

California has additional laws that provide employees with leave for family and medical reasons:

  • Family and medical leave. California has a state family and medical leave law, called the California Family Rights Act, which requires employers with at least 50 employees to give employees time off to bond with a new child, recover from their own serious health conditions, or care for a family member with a serious health condition. Employees may take up to 12 weeks off in a 12-month period for this purpose. Much of this law overlaps with the FMLA, but it also applies to domestic partners and children of domestic partners.
  • Bonding leave for smaller employers. California has a new law, called the New Parent Leave Act, which requires employers with 20 to 49 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of leave to their employees to bond with a new child only. This law takes effect on January 1, 2018.
  • Pregnancy disability leave. All employers with at least five employees must allow employees to take time off while they are disabled due to pregnancy, childbirth, or related conditions. Employees may take off a "reasonable" period of time, up to four months. This time off is in addition to the leave available under the California's family and medical leave laws and the FMLA.
  • Military family leave. Employers with at least 25 employees must allow an employee with a spouse in the military to take up to ten days of unpaid leave while the spouse is on leave from deployment during a period of military conflict. The employee's spouse must be a member of the National Guard or Reserves who has been deployed during a period of military conflict, or a member of the U.S. Armed Forces who has been deployed during a period of military conflict to an area that the president has designated as a combat theater or combat zone. Employees are eligible for this leave if they work an average of at least 20 hours per week.
  • School activities leave. Employers with at least 25 employees must allow an employee to take time off to participate in activities at a child's school or day care. Employees may take up to 40 hours off in any 12-month period, not to exceed eight hours in a single month.

California Paid Leave and Insurance Programs

California has two state insurance programs that provide benefits to employees who are unable to work due to health or family reasons. It also has a paid sick leave law.

Temporary Disability Insurance

California has a state temporary disability insurance program, funded by withholdings from employee paychecks. Eligible employees who are unable to work due to a temporary disability (including pregnancy) can receive up to 55% of their usual wages, tax free, for a period of time. Beginning on January 1, 2018, the percentage will increase to 70% for lower-wage earners and 60% for higher-wage earners. (For more information, go to the State Disability Insurance page of California's Employment Development Department.)

Paid Family Leave

The state's temporary disability program also funds paid family leave. Eligible employees can collect the same benefits available for a temporary disability for up to six weeks in order to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill parent, spouse, domestic partner, child, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or parent-in-law. To learn more, go to the EDD's Paid Family Leave page.

Paid Sick Leave

All employers in California must provide paid sick leave to their employees. Employees are eligible once they have worked at least 30 days within a year since beginning their employment. Employees accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, subject to a cap of 48 hours or six days. Employers may limit the amount of leave an employee may use in one year to 24 hours or three days. Employees may begin using paid sick leave after 90 days of employment.

Employees may use their paid sick leave:

  • for preventive care for the employee or a family member
  • for the diagnosis, treatment, or care of an existing health condition of the employee or a family member, or
  • for specified purposes if the employee is a victim of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.

For purposes of the paid sick leave law, family members include the employee's parents, children, spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparents, grandchildren, and siblings.

California Laws on Military Leave

Another federal law, the Unformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) gives eligible employees the right to be reinstated to their jobs after taking up to five years off for service in the U.S. military. (Find out all about USERRA in Nolo's article, Taking Military Leave.) Employers may not discriminate against employees based on their military service. And, employees may be fired only for good cause for a period of up to one year after they return from service, even if they would otherwise work at will. (See Employment At Will: What Does It Mean? to learn more.)

The laws of many states extend similar rights to employees who serve in the state's military, including the right to take time off from work and to be reinstated afterwards. In California, employees who are called to active duty in the National Guard are entitled to unpaid leave, with reinstatement when their service is through. Employees who are members of the National Guard, Reserves, or Naval Militia may also take up to 17 days of unpaid leave per year for military training, encampments, drills, naval cruises, special exercises, or similar activities.

Employers may not discriminate against employees because of their membership in the military. Employers also may not terminate employees without cause for one year after their reinstatement, even if they would otherwise work at will. And, employers may not terminate or limit an employee's benefits or seniority during any period of temporary disability (up to 52 weeks), resulting from duty in the National Guard or Naval Militia.

California Laws on Time Off for Jury Duty

California law gives employees the right to take time off work, without fear of retaliation, for the civic responsibility of serving on a jury. Employees may take unpaid time off to serve on a jury, as long as they give reasonable notice of the need for time off. Employees have the right to use accrued paid time off, including vacation time, personal leave, or comp time during jury duty leave.

Otherwise, time off to serve on a jury is unpaid. However, special rules apply to exempt employees. Under federal law, employers typically cannot deduct an exempt, salaried employee's pay for time spent serving on a jury, unless the employee did no work for the entire week. For more information, see our article on pay docking.

California Laws on Time Off for Voting

Employers must also give employees up to two hours off to vote at the beginning or end of their shifts, whichever will give the employee the most time to vote and require the least time away from work. This time off is paid. The employer need not provide voting leave if the employee has enough time to vote while off duty.

California Laws on Domestic Violence Leave

All California employers must give employees time off to obtain a restraining order or to seek other judicial relief from domestic violence or sexual assault for the employee or the employee's child.

In addition, employers with at least 25 employees must provide unpaid time off for the employee to:

  • seek medical treatment
  • obtain services from a rape crisis center or domestic violence shelter or program
  • receive counseling, or
  • engage in safety planning or relocate.

The law does not specify how much time employers must provide for these purposes.

California Laws on Bone Marrow and Organ Donation

Employers with 15 or more employees must provide employees with up to 30 business days of leave each year to donate an organ and up to five business days each year to donate bone marrow. Unlike most other laws, this leave must be paid.

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