Overview of Paid Sick Leave Benefits Available to Employees in California

In California, qualifying employees are entitled to sick leave benefits set forth in Labor Code Section 233. This code section was amended in 2016 and broadened the protections afforded to employees who needed to sick leave. For example, the 2016 amendments broadened the scope of when sick leave benefits could be used, including:

  • Diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition of an employee
  • Preventive care for an employee
  • Diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition of, or preventive care for family members of an employee including parents, parents-in-law, children, spouses, registered domestic partners, grandparents, grandchildren, and/or siblings
  • Diagnosis, care, or treatment for employees who were the victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking

Frontloaded Sick Leave Benefits

Another modification to California’s Paid Sick Leave Law includes the requirement that employers provide employees with 24 hours of “frontloaded” paid sick leave, or at least one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked on an accrual basis, to be used for specified sick leave purposes consistent with the state law. In addition, the Paid Sick Leave Law and Labor Code Section 233 authorize employers to cap an employee’s annual use of sick leave to the greater of 24 hours or half of the amount of sick leave an employee accrued in a year.

Basically, this means that the greater of either 24 hours of sick leave, or the first one-half of an employee’s annual sick leave accruals (e.g., first 48 hours of sick leave where 96 hours are accrued annually) are statutorily protected pursuant to Labor Code Section 233.

Employees possess the sole discretion to specify whether they utilized sick leave benefits for their personal use, or for one of the protected reasons under the law. For example, an employee is able to indicate to their employer that they opted to take sick leave taken for their own illness and therefore the sick leave time taken should not count towards the amount of sick leave benefits protected under Labor Code Section 233. This means greater flexibility and broader access to sick leave benefits for employees.

No Obligation to Find “Cover” for Your Work Shift

Another important aspect of California’s Paid Sick Leave law is that employers are prohibited from requiring employees to find coverage for a particular shift (if you work at a job with a specific shift schedule) in the event an employee needs to use paid sick leave benefits. This prohibition reduces the burden placed on employees during a time when they may be unwell or caring for a loved one who is unwell. In addition, this prohibition highlights the fact that locating a temporary employee or modifying shift schedules is a responsibility best handled by the employer.

Taking Sick Leave to Attend a Doctor’s Appointment

A common question asked by employees is whether an employer is allowed to take disciplinary action if the employee opts to take a paid sick day to attend a doctor’s appointment. Generally, the answer is no, an employer is not authorized to take any type of disciplinary action simply because an employee used accrued paid sick leave to attend a doctor’s appointment. This prohibition is primarily due to the anti-retaliation provisions within California Labor Code Sections 233, 234, and 246.5.

For example, Section 246.5(c)(1)states that an employer “shall not deny an employee the right to use accrued sick days, discharge, threaten to discharge, demote, suspend, or in any manner discriminate against an employee for using accrued sick days, attempting to exercise the right to use accrued sick days, filing a complaint with the department or alleging a violation of this article, cooperating in an investigation or prosecution of an alleged violation of this article, or opposing any policy or practice or act that is prohibited by this article.”

Additionally, Labor Code Section 234 states that an employer absence control policy in California that counts sick leave taken pursuant to Section 233 as an absence that may lead to or result in discipline, discharge, demotion, or suspension “is a per se violation of Section 233.”

Local Ordinance Sick Leave Policies

It is important to note that local sick leave ordinances contain additional requirements and protections. For example, many local ordinances, such as the San Francisco and Oakland Paid Sick Leave Ordinances, do not permit an annual cap on the ability of an employee to use their accrued sick leave.

Contact Our San Francisco Employment Law Attorney

If your employer is attempting to discipline you for taking sick leave or is denying compensation for accrued sick leave, contact the Rissell Law Firm to schedule a free, confidential consultation so we can discuss your legal options. You can easily schedule a consultation here.