What Are My Rights in California? 

Yes, your employer can deny your time off request, but the real answer is that it will depend on some of the following factors:

  • The type and reason for the time off request and whether the requested leave is for a medical condition for you or a family member
  • The reason for denying your request

Because the answer isn’t always clear, we’ll discuss some of the circumstances when you are entitled to time off of work in California. 

Boss talking to employees

Is Paid Time Off (PTO) Mandatory? 

PTO isn’t mandatory, although many employers make it available. Employees “earn” a certain number of hours or days per pay period or month after the first 90 days of employment. Some employers may distinguish between “sick” and “vacation” time, others may just call it PTO that’s used for any type of absence without a distinction. Others may offer a “floating holiday,” in which an employee can take one day off for any reason. 

Just because your employer offers PTO doesn’t mean they are required to grant the time off. You must use the company’s process for requesting vacation or other time off ahead of time when possible. For instance, if the company requires two weeks prior notice for vacation, you’re required to let the company know of your absence beforehand. 

California Paid Sick Leave

California law states that employees receive one hour of sick leave per 30 hours worked after the first 90 days of employment. This totals 24 hours, or three days, of sick leave per year. Employers can add more at their own discretion. 

For a doctor’s appointment, you can take this leave in increments, such as 2 or 4 hours, rather than a full 8-hour day unless it’s needed. In most cases, your employer cannot refuse a request for a sick day if you have a valid medical condition. 

Some employers may require a doctor’s note to return to work. The employer can ask about your illness unless it’s a disability covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) or the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”).  They aren’t allowed to ask additional questions once you notify them that it is an ADA-covered disability. Your employer also may not call your doctor’s office to inquire about the nature of your illness. 

You may be considering “calling in sick” when you aren’t. This isn’t advisable, and could lead to disciplinary action from your employer, including the potential for suspension or even termination. But your employer may not deny you access to your accrued sick time or take disciplinary action against you for taking PTO for a doctor’s appointment by using paid sick leave. 

Unpaid Medical Leave 

California law guarantees job-protected leave to eligible employees who are disabled by pregnancy, childbirth (referred to as Pregnancy Disability Leave or PDL), or a medical or health condition, and separately guarantees job-protected leave to eligible employees to bond with a new child (via birth, adoption, or foster care placement) (referred to as California Family Rights Act leave or CFRA leave). Employees also have federal rights to leave for a pregnancy-related disability or to bond with a new child, which are provided for by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). When both state and federal laws apply, the employee receives the benefit of the more protective law.

Both can be used for: 

  • Birth and care of a newborn
  • A serious health condition that directly affects a person's ability to do their job
  • A serious health condition that directly impacts a person’s child, spouse, or parent

FMLA also covers prenatal appointments, and the adoption of a child, including meeting with prospective parents. CFRA only covers pregnancy complications, whereas FMLA also covers a complete pregnancy. Domestic partners may not be included under FMLA but are under CFRA. 

These two benefit periods (CRFA and FMLA) run concurrently at the same time with each other. That is, an employee can take 12 weeks under the FMLA and CFRA, using both medical leave laws simultaneously but cannot take 12 weeks of FMLA leave and then another 12 more weeks under the CFRA. The total time period is 12 weeks of leave but in some cases, if the leave is related to pregnancy, under CRFA, the period of leave can extend for a total of 16 weeks which runs concurrently with the 12 weeks of FMLA leave. 

When You Are Eligible For Certain Types of Medical Leave:

You are eligible for PDL if you have a pregnancy-related disability and your employer has 5 or more employees. (See Gov. Code, § 12945 & Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, §§ 11035 & 11037)

You are eligible for CFRA if you have a new child (via birth, adoption or foster placement) and have worked for your employer for 12 months or more and have 1, 250 hours or more of service in the past year and your employer has 5 or more employees. (See Gov. Code, § 12945.2 & Cal. Code Regs., tit. 2, §§ 11087 & 11088)

Under the FMLA, you are eligible if you have a serious medical condition, which could be pregnancy-related or a new child (via birth, adoption, or foster placement), have worked for your employer for one or more years, have 1, 250 or more hours of service in the past year, and 50 or more employees work within a 75-mile radius. (See 29 U.S.C. § 2611(2) & 29 C.F.R. § 825.110)

Please note that your employer may require you to use sick time under the PDL unless you are receiving some type of government-provided disability benefits. Under the CFRA, your employer may require you to use vacation time unless you are receiving some form of disability benefits but may not require you to use sick leave. Under the FMLA, your employer may require you to use vacation time or sick leave. 

Currently, CRFA and FMLA may be taken not only for your own serious health condition but the condition of a spouse, domestic partner, parent, minor child, or dependent adult child. 

Medical Certification from a Health care provider may be required

Your employer may require a doctor’s note or written certification from your health care provider to justify and provide your time off request under the PDL, CFRA or FMLA. 

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