Guide to Family Leave, Medical Leave, Sick Leave, and Bereavement Leave for Employees in California

Federal law in the United States provides some protection for employees when they need to take a leave of absence from their job, which is mostly governed by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). But California has additional programs which allow employees either paid or unpaid leave for when they get sick or need to take care of sick family members, or otherwise need to undergo a medical procedure, or for taking time for a new child, or even to mourn the death of a loved one.

This is part of our Guide to the Law for Employees in California. Check out that page for much more about employee rights and obligations.

If I get sick, do I get paid time off from work? 

Update: As of Jan 1, 2024, paid sick days in California increase to 40 hours (or five 8-hour days). (SB 616)

If you have worked for an employer for at least 90 days (the “probationary period”), then you may qualify to be able take time off to care for yourself or family members, and still get paid for it.

The law requires employers to provide and allow employees to use at least 24 hours (three 8-hour days) of paid sick leave per year. Employees accrue at least 1 hour of paid sick leave per 30 hours worked.

You can take paid sick leave for yourself or a family member for the following purposes:

  • preventive care or diagnosis, including annual physicals or flu shots
  • care or treatment of an existing health condition, or
  • for specified purposes if you are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking

“Family member” includes the employee’s parent, child, spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, or designated person.

The paid sick leave law applies to all employers and all employees in California. See details about paid sick leave here.1Government Code Sections 12945.2, 12945.6.

You may also qualify for unpaid family leave, which provides up to 12 weeks of leave from work to take care of a serious illness you have. See more about unpaid family leave, below.

Do I get paid (or unpaid) time off to take care of a family member?

You may qualify for paid family leave, which provides up to 8 weeks of compensation when you have a wage loss when taking time off work to care for a seriously ill family member. You may also qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave (see below).

You may be eligible for paid family leave if you:

  1. Are a part-time or full-time employee who has contributed to the State Disability Insurance program (this is generally automatically deducted from your paycheck), or a self-employed Californian who has contributed to the Disability Insurance Elective Coverage Program at some point during the previous 18 months. AND
  2. Have a loss of wages because you need to take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member, bond with a new child, or participate in a family member’s qualifying military event.

What is considered a serious illness?

A serious illness or health condition means an illness, injury, impairment, or physical or mental condition that involves inpatient care in a hospital, hospice or residential medical care facility, or at home. This includes:

  • when a family member experiences a period of incapacity, such as an inability to work, attend school, or perform other regular daily activities
  • any subsequent treatment in connection with such inpatient care
  • continuing treatment by a physician or other health care practitioner

Some examples of conditions that do not count as a serious illness or health condition, unless complications arise: cosmetic treatments, the common cold, influenza, earaches, upset stomach, minor ulcers, and headaches other than migraines.

Do I have a right to maternity leave if I am pregnant?

Under the paid family leave program, discussed above, you may be entitled to up to 8 weeks of compensation when you have a wage loss when taking time off work to care for and bond with a new child. This applies to fathers as well as mothers. You may also qualify for up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave (see below).

What does unpaid family leave cover?

If you work for an employer that has 5 or more employees, you may have the right to take up to 12 weeks (3 months) unpaid leave for:

  • pregnancy, childbirth, parenting; or
  • taking care of yourself or a family member who has a serious health condition.

This falls under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA). You must have worked for the employer for more than 12 months and have worked at least 1,250 hours in the 12 months prior to the leave.

Are employees allowed to take time off work to go to a funeral or otherwise mourn a loved one?

Under a new bereavement leave law, Assembly Bill 1949, California employers with 5 or more workers must allow employees up to 5 days of unpaid, job-protected leave upon the death of a close family member. This may include a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, domestic partner or parent-in-law.

Employers may require documentation of the death, such as a death certificate, a published obituary or verification from a funeral home.

Do employees have the right to vacation pay or paid time off?

No. Employers in California are not required to provide any paid vacation time or other paid time off.

That said, if an employer voluntarily offers a vacation policy, there are some rules about it:

  1. Vacation benefits are considered wages and are earned by the employee on a pro rata basis for each day of work. Because vacation is a form of deferred wages and vests as it is earned, vacation wages cannot be forfeited.2(Suastez v. Plastic Dress Up (1982) 31 Cal.3d 774)
  2. An employer may place a reasonable cap on vacation benefits that prevents an employee from earning vacation over a certain amount of hours.3(Boothby v. Atlas Mechanical (1992) 6 Cal.App.4th 1595)
  3. When an employment relationship ends, all vacation earned but not yet taken by the employee must be paid at the time of termination. (Labor Code §227.3).

Do employees have the right to take leave from work for holidays?

No. California law does not require that employers provide employees with paid time off or unpaid time off for holidays, or pay an employee any additional compensation for working on a holiday.

Further Resources

See our full Guide to the Law for Employees.

Find an employment lawyer.

Author

  • Tristan Blaine

    Tristan Blaine is the founder of Law Soup Media, and has been a licensed attorney since 2013.

    About Tristan

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