Employees in California are legally entitled to paid sick leave, state temporary disability benefits, and paid family leave benefits under California law.
The rules for paid sick and family leave have changed rapidly in response to COVID-19. In March of 2020, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which required many employers to start providing some paid time off to employees affected by COVID-19 by the beginning of April. The leave provisions of the law expired at the end of 2020, however.
Employers in most states are not legally required to offer paid time off to employees, although many choose to do so.
Paid Sick Leave: Federal Law
The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act required covered employers to provide up to ten days of emergency paid sick leave for reasons related to COVID-19. However, this law expired at the end of 2020. Although Congress extended a tax credit for employers who choose to continue offering this leave for a few months, it did not extend the requirement that employers provide this leave.
Paid Sick Leave: California and Local Law
More than a dozen states require employers to give employees paid sick time to use for their own illnesses or to care for a family member.
California employers must provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works. Although employees may accrue up to 48 hours of paid sick time per year, employers are not required to allow employees to use more than 24 hours per year. Employees may use this time for their own illness or preventative care, for a family member's illness or preventative care, or to seek help or handle practical matters arising from domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault against the employee. To learn more about California's Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families law, see the California Department of Industrial Relations' Paid Sick Leave FAQ.
In addition, a handful of local governments require employers doing business in the area to give employees a certain amount of paid sick leave. To find out if you are covered by this type of law, consult the frequently updated list of city and county paid sick leave laws at the website of the National Partnership for Women & Families.
Paid Family Leave: Federal Law
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act also required employers to offer public health emergency leave, a form of paid family leave. Eligible employees were eligible to take this leave if they were unable to work or telework because their child's school or care provider was closed or unavailable due to a COVID-19 public health emergency. This leave was available for up to 12 total weeks, the first two unpaid and the remaining ten paid.
However, this leave entitlement also expired at the end of 2020. Like the paid sick leave provision, Congress extended the tax credit for employers who choose to continue providing this leave for a few months, but did not extend the requirement to provide leave.
Paid Family and Disability Leave: State Law
Some states allow employees to collect benefits for disability leave, family and medical leave, or both. Employers may also choose to make such benefits available voluntarily.
A handful of states require employers to provide short-term disability insurance to employees who are temporarily unable to work due to disability, including pregnancy. Typically, employers pay into a state insurance fund to provide this coverage.
California is one of a few states that offers temporary disability insurance to employees. This program is paid through money withheld from employee paychecks. If you are eligible, you will receive about 55% of your usual earnings, tax-free, while you are temporarily unable to work due to disability (including pregnancy).
Some companies provide disability insurance as an employee benefit. This coverage may be short-term, long-term, or both. If you meet your employer’s requirements for taking this type of leave, you can make a claim for benefits under your employer’s plan.
Family and Medical Leave
A growing number of states have made paid family and medical leave benefits available to employees, typically through an insurance program that is funded by payroll withholding and/or employer contributions. In some states, this is part of the disability program; other states don't provide disability benefits, but have a standalone paid family leave benefit program.
California offers paid family leave as part of its temporary disability insurance program. The paid family leave program gives employees the right to collect benefits for up to eight weeks for the following reasons:
- to bond with a new child
- to care for a seriously ill family member, or
- to participate in a qualifying event relating to a family member's military deployment to a foreign country.
You can learn more at California's paid family leave page.
Unpaid Time Off for Illness or Family Leave
Even if you aren’t entitled to paid time off when you are sick or need to care for a family member, you may be entitled to unpaid leave. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), for example, eligible employees may take up to 12 weeks off per year, unpaid, for their own serious health condition or to care for a family member with a serious health condition (among other reasons). Only employers with at least 50 employees must comply with this law, and employees are eligible for leave only if they have worked for at least a year, and at least 1,250 hours during the past year, for the employer.
Some states also require employers to provide unpaid time off for family and medical reasons, including illness. To find out the rules in California, contact the California Department of Industrial Relations.
Currently, only Nevada and Maine require employers to provide paid vacation or personal leave to employees (in the form of paid time off).
California does not require employers to provide paid time off -- leave that can be used for any reason the employee chooses, like vacation time or personal leave -- to employees. If you have an employment agreement that promises you a certain number of paid vacation or personal leave days, then you may have a contract claim against your employer if it doesn't provide them. Otherwise, however, almost all employers may choose whether or not to offer vacation time or similar paid time off.
If your employer does provide vacation time, state law determines whether your employer must pay out your accrued, unused vacation time when your employment relationship ends.
Under California law, your final paycheck must include pay for accrued vacation time.
If You Have Already Lost Your Job
Under all of these federal and state laws, leave is available only to those who are still employed. If you have already been laid off or otherwise lost your job, you should apply for unemployment benefits. You can find lots of information, articles, resources, and links -- including information on how California is handling unemployment claims in the coronavirus pandemic -- at our unemployment benefits learning center.