California Rules on Vacation and Paid Time Off

Employees want to know about their earned time off, for vacation and other needs, and employers want to know what they are obliged to offer. Vacation and PTO don’t have to be complicated, so long as everyone is aware of the rules in California. With this guide, both employers and employees will understand California’s regulations so everyone can have their needs met.

What is PTO?

PTO is paid time off. This is any time an employee is away from work and not working but also paid. Vacation time can be one type of PTO.

How is PTO used?

PTO could include medical leave, jury duty, or holiday pay. It is used to ensure an employee has their regular wages even when they are not at work. In California, though paid vacation is not an obligation, sick leave as PTO is required. FMLA is unpaid leave only, jury duty is unpaid time off only, and holiday pay is not required.

What is Better, PTO or Vacation?

Should I use PTO or vacation?

PTO could include medical leave, jury duty, or holiday pay. It is used to ensure an employee has their regular wages even when they are not at work. In California, though paid vacation is not an obligation, sick leave as PTO is required. FMLA is unpaid leave only, jury duty is unpaid time off only, and holiday pay is not required.

Is vacation pay the same as PTO?

Sick leave is required in California. While vacation pay is a type of PTO, it is not required under state law. In fact, in California, there is no requirement for employers to provide vacation time, paid or unpaid, to their employees. However, many do so, recognizing the advantages of offering this benefit to their staff. Where employers do offer paid vacation, there are restrictions on how they must meet this obligation.

How vacation time is earned

Vacation time in California can be earned as a fixed amount, such as one week per year, or accrued over time. Paid vacation comes in the form of wages and is earned as labor is performed. It is accrued based on the workdays offered as vacation entitlements over the year. It could be accrued by the day, week, pay period, or another timeframe established by the employer.

Under California law, employers can put certain conditions on paid vacation time. For instance, an employer can include a waiting or probationary period at the start of employment during which an employee cannot accrue paid vacation time.

Can an employer withhold earned vacation time?

Employers in California have the right to manage their vacation pay responsibilities, including controlling when paid vacation time can be used and how much can be used at once. They may set out advance notice requirements or block out certain dates from vacation approvals.

Are Employers Required to Provide PTO?

Employers in California are not required to provide PTO aside from sick leave. California employers must provide three days or 72 hours of paid sick leave. Some cities have local laws requiring more time than that.

Can my PTO be denied?

Employers can restrict the use of paid sick leave to 24 hours or three days per year, and require that that time must be taken in at least two-hour increments but not more. They cannot retaliate against employees for using sick leave or refuse a valid request to use it.

Do all employees get PTO?

Some employees may not receive paid sick leave in California. That includes some employees covered by collective bargaining agreements, some air carrier employees, and employees of the California In-Home Supportive Services Program.

What happens to PTO when laid off?

The only mandated PTO, sick leave, has no requirement to be paid out upon termination. Optional paid leave, such as vacation time, ‘earned’ sick days or hybrid personal/sick days must be paid out to employees. These benefits come in the form of wages, which means employees receive those wages at their final rate of pay, on their final paycheck.

How does FTE affect PTO?

In California, so long as an employee has met the minimum requirements for hours worked, they will receive paid sick leave.

What does full-time equivalent mean?

Full-time equivalent, or FTE, is a unit to measure time worked by employees even if they work different hours per week.

How is FTE calculated?

A full-time employee is 1 FTE, and a part-time employee is assigned an FTE number based on what they work relative to a full-time employee. For instance, if 1 FTE is 40 hours a week, someone working 20 hours a week is 0.5 FTE.

How does PTO Accrual Work?

Sick leave, the only required PTO in California, is required for any employee who works at least 30 days in a year. They can begin accruing that paid sick leave once they have worked for an employer for 90 days. Employees will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Employers can make this process simpler with the option of offering three days of paid sick leave to every employee at the start of each year.

Do you accrue PTO while using PTO?

For optional PTO like paid vacation days, employers are generally able to determine their own policies. Some may choose to base accrual on hours actually worked.

Can you use sick days as PTO?

This depends on the policy of the employer. Under standard law, sick days are a separate, guaranteed form of PTO in California. Some employers may choose to offer sick days to be used for any reason or a hybrid of sick time and personal time falling under one PTO umbrella.

Is PTO the same as sick leave in California?

While sick leave is a type of PTO, unless an employer decides to offer other paid time off, sick leave is the only PTO required by state law.

Can you get a doctor’s note after the fact?

Doctor’s notes are not necessary to use accrued paid sick leave. The law only requires an oral or written request from the employee.

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