What Is the Law for Calling in Sick in California?

As of 2015, California employers must give their employees three days of paid sick leave annually. The right to take accrued sick leave with pay is extended to most types of employees, including salaried, part-time, seasonal and temporary workers. While employers are free to offer more generous leave terms for medical purposes, they cannot offer more restrictive leave, nor may they retaliate against or discipline employees for exercising their right to sick leave.

Requirements of California Sick Leave Law

California sick leave law requires employers in the state to provide at least three days of paid sick leave a year to all covered employees, which includes most types of workers. The accrual of sick leave for employees must begin no later than 30 days after the employee begins work. Employees may use accrued paid time off after 90 days of employment.

Read More: What is California's Sick Leave Law

Allowable Purposes for Sick Leave

California workers are entitled to take any sick leave they have accrued with their employer for the purpose of seeking medical care for themselves. They also may take leave to care for family members, as defined by the statute:

  • Spouses and registered domestic partners
  • Children (including foster and adopted children)
  • Grandchildren
  • Parents 
  • Grandparents
  • Siblings

Specific purposes for taking sick leave include rest and recovery from an illness, care or treatment required for acute or chronic illnesses and injuries, and seeking a diagnosis (including undergoing required medical testing). Employees may also use sick leave to engage in preventative treatment protocols and to recover from medical procedures.

In addition, California’s sick leave law permits employees to use accrued leave to seek help, treatment, or protection from domestic abuse, stalking and sexual assault. Employees may use leave to seek restraining orders and other legal remedies; get medical care for any injuries resulting from the abuse or assault; undergo counseling and therapy; and implement safety plans against future violence, stalking and assault.

Exemptions and Restrictions on Paid Sick Leave

Under California sick leave law, a few types of employees are exempted from the law’s protections. Those workers include in-home health and support service providers, airline flight and cabin crew employees, and employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement that provides for a pay rate at least 30 percent over the state’s minimum wage. All other employees, including seasonal, temporary and part-time workers, are covered by the law’s provisions.

Notice and Physician Certification

California employers may require workers to provide a reasonable amount of notice in advance of taking sick leave, as long as the use is foreseeable. For example, the employer may require a worker taking leave for a scheduled doctor’s appointment or surgery to give sufficient notice to arrange for alternate coverage of the worker’s job duties.

Where the worker’s need for sick leave is not planned in advance or foreseeable (i.e., for sudden injury or illness), the company may require reasonable notice, such as a certain number of hours before the worker’s shift begins. Notice may be written or verbal.

California law is silent about whether an employer can require a worker to provide a doctor’s note when taking accrued sick leave. As it is not specifically prohibited, it may be deemed permissible by California courts. However, employers should be careful not to make taking leave contingent upon providing such a note, as the right to paid sick leave is broad and relatively free of procedural restrictions beyond reasonable notice.

Anti-Retaliation Provisions and Damages for Violations

Employers may not retaliate against or discipline employees for an “occurrence” as a result of merely exercising their rights to take accrued paid sick leave.

Workers whose employers have violated this anti-retaliation provision may be entitled to a range of financial damages and equitable relief, up to and including reinstatement after termination. Financial damages in labor cases include back pay; withheld payment for denied sick leave; and up to treble (three times) liquidated damages for sick leave that was improperly denied (up to $4,000). Successful employee litigants may also be entitled to interest on back pay as well as recovery of attorney’s fees and court costs.

If an employer policy or practice results in the wrongful denial of accrued sick leave to multiple employees, those workers may be entitled to bring a single class-action lawsuit against the company.

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