Can an Employer Make You Use Vacation Days for Sick Days?

Under California law, workers are granted paid sick time that allows them to recover from illness or injury, get diagnosed, seek treatment or care, or to care for an ill family member that may need treatment, diagnosis, or care. Sick leave also applies to workers who are victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, or stalking.

By: Brad Nakase, Attorney

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In light of the pandemic, California’s sick time law may also be used for reasons related to COVID-19:

  • Self-quarantine related to potential exposure to COVID-19
  • Exposure to COVID-19
  • Recent travel to a high-risk area

As of February 9, 2022, additional paid sick time is granted to workers unable to work due to:

  • Experiencing symptoms related to a COVID-19 vaccine or booster
  • Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and going to a doctor or clinic
  • Caring for a family member with vaccine symptoms or seeking diagnosis
  • Caring for a child whose school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19

Sick Leave Coverage

Under California law, if an employee works for at least 30 days a year as a full-time, part-time, or temporary worker, he or she is entitled to sick leave. It should be noted that the law does not apply to federal employees, certain state government employees, and certain airline employees.

Amount of Sick Leave

Under California law, an employee can earn 1 hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked. The maximum allowed is 6 days (48 hours) per year. An employer is allowed, however, to limit sick days to as few as 3 days per year.

That said, due to COVID-19, workers may receive an additional 40 hours of paid sick time if:

  • They are quarantined or isolated due to COVID-19
  • They are caring for a family member or child in quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19
  • They are going to a vaccination appointment or are ill from vaccine side effects

Workers may receive an additional 40 hours of paid sick leave (80 total), if:

  • They or a family member test positive for COVID-19

Unlike typical paid sick leave in California, workers do not have to accrue – or earn – the additional paid sick time for COVID-19. Employers can, however, limit this additional COVID sick leave to 3 days, unless a doctor’s note or other verification is provided.

In any case, all workers in California are protected from termination or discipline if they request or use their earned sick leave.

Family Members Covered by Law

Under California law, an employee can take sick leave to care for a child, spouse, domestic partner, parent, parent of a spouse, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling.

However, an employee cannot use the sick time simply because a child’s school or daycare is closed. That said, if the school or daycare is closed due to COVID-19 on the premises, then an employee may use the additional paid sick leave granted in light of the pandemic.

The Start of Sick Time

Under California law, an employee starts earning sick time immediately upon employment but is unable to use it for 90 days.

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