This post will explain all you need to know about employee leave laws for businesses and workers located in the state of California.
Follow this guide to understand companies’ obligations related to vacation time, paid time off (PTO), sick leave, parental leave, bereavement and more, along with state holidays observed in California.
This page is intended for reference purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Please see official government sources or consult a legal professional for actual legal advice.
No federal or state laws in the United States require employers to provide their employees with paid or unpaid vacation time. This includes California.
Employers can choose to offer vacation time to their employees, and if it is stated in an employee’s contract or company policy, the employer is legally obliged to abide by the policy.
California prohibits Use It or Lose It policies for vacation time and sick leave.
Under California law, vacation pay or vacation time is treated similarly to wages, and cannot be forfeited because it hasn’t been used by a specific date.
Employers can, however, put a “reasonable cap” on accrued vacation time, limiting the total amount that can be stockpiled at one time.
Use It or Lose It leave policies mean that any leave not used at the end of the year is forfeited, and not carried over to the following year. Learn more about Use It or Lose It policies here.
As vacation time is considered an earned benefit similar to wages, California requires any unused vacation time be paid out upon employment separation (e.g. when an employee quits, is fired or is laid off).
Final vacation pay is paid out at the employee’s rate of pay as of separation, and for companies with yearly vacation quotas, vacation pay is prorated depending on how much of the year has passed.
Nearly all employees in California (including part-time and temporary employees) are entitled to paid sick leave (there are a few exceptions, as laid out in the Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act).
Sick leave is accrued at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. Companies can limit the amount of paid sick leave that can be used in one year to a total of 24 hours or three days.
Unused sick leave carries over to the following year, but accrued sick time can be capped at 48 hours or six days.
Besides any state laws or provisions written into employment contracts, employers in California must comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which entitles eligible employees the right to take 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for serious health conditions, or to care for spouses, children or parents with a serious health condition.
Here are the officially observed state holidays in California.
|January 1||New Year’s Day|
|January 16||Martin Luther King, Jr. Day|
|3rd Monday in February||Presidents’ Day|
|March 31||Cesar Chavez Day|
|May 29||National Memorial Day|
|July 4||Independence Day|
|1st Monday in September||Labor Day|
|November 11||Veterans Day|
|November 24||Day after Thanksgiving|
|December 25||Christmas Day|
There is no legal requirement for employers to provide employees with a paid or unpaid day off for state holidays. Companies can require staff to work on state holidays, and are not required to provide any additional compensation, such as a higher pay rate or additional days off.
Maternity leave is not covered by state law in California. The federal FMLA does apply, however, which entitles new mothers to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for a new birth, adoption or foster of a child.
Paternity leave is not covered by California law, but new fathers have the same rights as mothers to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave under the FMLA.
California requires any companies with 5+ employees to provide unpaid bereavement leave for the death of a family member. Bereavement leave does not have to be taken all at once, but must be taken within three months of the family member’s death.
The bereavement leave law applies for the death of a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or parent-in-law. Any other relationships are not covered by law, and are up to the employer’s discretion whether to grant leave.
Employers in California are not required to pay employees for time spent serving jury duty, but they may not discharge or penalize an employee in any way for serving jury duty.
Employers in California must provide employees with sufficient time off to vote. If the employee does not have sufficient time off to vote outside of working hours, they may take time off from work, of which up to two hours are paid.
California law entitles a victim of a serious or violent felony (as well as the immediate family member of a victim, the registered domestic partner of a victim or the child of a domestic partner of a victim) to unpaid leave to attend judicial proceedings related to the crime.
Federal Law (the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA)) applies in California, which states that military service members receive up to five years of unpaid leave for military service, and upon returning, must be reinstated to the same position (or an equivalent position) as they had before their leave.
Anything not covered in California state leave laws is up to the discretion of the employer, such as whether or not to provide paid sick leave or PTO, or whether PTO rolls over from year to year.
However, if any benefits are laid out in an employee’s contract or company policy, employers must comply with what has been agreed in that document.
For example, if an employee’s contract states that they are to receive 12 days of PTO each year, the employer is legally required to provide this, even though paid time off is not required by state law.