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In short, yes, a California employer can force you to use paid time off (PTO). Generally speaking, though, the law does a lot to protect workers concerning time off. Even if you have an employment contract that says otherwise, the PTO laws still apply. PTO can refer to either sick leave or vacation days. The law does require employers to offer paid sick leave but not paid vacation time. In this article, we’ll explore the ins and outs of paid time off in California.

Here are a few key points to fully understand your rights as a California employee when it comes to PTO:

  • As of January 1, 2024, employers are required to provide a minimum of 40 hours (5 days) annually of sick leave to workers who have been at the company for at least 30 days of that year and have been employed with the company for at least 90 days. It doesn’t matter if the worker is a temp or part-time.
  • The Family & Medical Leave Act gives workers the right to be off work for a medical or family emergency, but it does not require your employer to pay you for that time. Employers are also banned from forcing workers to use PTO in the event of such an emergency. An employer can force you to use your PTO if you are taking leave not protected by the FMLA, though.
  • Employees retain accrued vacation days indefinitely. California law protects your earned vacation time from ever expiring. You can, for example, accumulate PTO for decades and cash it all out when you retire.
  • There is no limit to how much PTO an employer can accumulate. In the past, there was a cap, but that is no longer the case.
  • “Use It or Lose It” PTO policies are illegal.

As stated above, in 2024, all workers who have been with a company long enough must be given paid sick leave (PSL) under California law. Legally, the employer may mandate that workers slowly accumulate the PSL rather than being given access to all of it at once. Statutes in California stipulate that an employee can accrue no less than one hour of PSL per 30 hours worked. Paid Sick Leave can be utilized for:

  • When you are actively experiencing or recovering from an illness or injury—physical or mental
  • When you must care for a family member who is injured or ill, including going to treatment, prevention, therapy, or diagnosis appointments.
  • When you have a treatment, prevention, therapy, or diagnosis appointment.

Employers do not need to provide paid or unpaid vacation time to their staff. Accrued vacation time is considered to be wages if the employer does offer it. California law also requires that optional vacation time is to be accrued based on hours worked, in the same proportional way PSL is. The state also protects accrued vacation time from expiring or forfeiting upon termination or resignation.

A Caring & Tough San Diego Employment Lawyer

If your sick or vacation time has been mishandled by your employer, you have the right to compensation. The tough yet compassionate San Diego employment lawyers at Mara Law Firm handle cases like these exclusively. Schedule your free consultation with us today.

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This page has been written, edited, and reviewed by a team of legal writers following our comprehensive editorial guidelines. This page was approved by attorney David Mara who has more than 20 years of legal experience in employment law.

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