Can an Employer Deny Unpaid Time Off in California? 2024

Can an Employer Deny

An important part of any employee’s life is a work-life balance. Time away from your employment gives you time to relax and enjoy hobbies. It is important to know what your rights are as an employee and when you can take time off in California. Sometimes, it is illegal for an employer to deny you leave or retaliate against you for taking leave. In other cases, it is an employer’s right to allow or deny time off.

Unpaid Time Off vs. Paid Time Off (PTO)

Paid time off (PTO) is not mandatory in California. Some employees are provided a certain number of hours each year that they can take off work while still gaining income. Because of this, PTO has stricter guidelines, but employers have less control if you choose to take PTO. Employees who can take PTO can also often take unpaid time off.

Providing unpaid time off for any reason is not legally required of employers. However, many employers allow employees some unpaid time off throughout the year. As an employee, you will not gain wages during this time, but you can take a vacation or a much-needed break. Employers are allowed to deny unpaid time off requests in certain circumstances, such as for recreational activities. Some unpaid time-off requests are illegal to deny.

Unpaid Medical Leave Laws

Both state and federal laws guarantee job-protected unpaid leave for certain medical and family reasons. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is the federal law, and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA) is the state law. Between these two laws, employees can take up to twelve weeks a year off for the following reasons:

  • Recover from or deal with a medical condition such as an injury or disease.
  • Take time to bond with a newborn child, foster child, or newly adopted child.
  • Take care of a family member or loved one who is dealing with health complications.
  • Handle certain military service matters with family members.

If you request unpaid leave for one of these reasons, your employer cannot deny your leave request. The FMLA and CFRA also provide protected job leave. This means that you must be returned to your previous job or a comparable job when you return from leave. It also means that your employment must include similar pay, seniority, and benefits.

What Are My Rights If My Protected Unpaid Medical Leave Was Denied?

An employer is only obligated to allow you unpaid leave for the medical and family categories listed in the FMLA. Your employer is not required to provide you with unpaid time off if:

  • You are taking leave for a reason not covered by FMLA or CFRA.
  • You have exceeded the work year’s 12 weeks of protected unpaid leave.

If your leave fully qualifies under the FMLA, and your employer denies it without providing you with a valid reason, you could take legal action. If you take unpaid leave under the FMLA, and you return to work only to be given a demoted role or not given your job at all, you are also permitted to file a claim. If you return to work and are harassed or otherwise retaliated against for taking leave, you can seek a legal remedy.

What Employees Are Eligible for FMLA?

To qualify for unpaid medical leave under the FMLA, you must meet the following requirements:

  • Your employer is covered by the FMLA.
  • You have worked for at least 1,250 hours in the last 12 months before the start of your leave. This does not include any leave.
  • You work within a 75-mile radius of an employer with at least 50 employees.
  • You have worked for this employee for the last 12 months. This can be non-consecutive.

If you meet these requirements, your family or medical unpaid leave should be allowed by your employer. If your employee rights have been violated, you may want to talk with a Los Angeles wage and hour lawyer. They can give you information about how you can receive compensation for workplace retaliation or an illegal denial of leave.

FAQs About California Employer Unpaid Time Off Law

Is There a PTO Cap in California?

There is no state-mandated paid time off (PTO) cap in California. However, each employer is likely to have their own caps for vacation time and PTO in company policies. There are some cases where employer caps are considered unreasonable and are not recognized or enforced by the labor division. However, if an employer’s cap falls within reasonable limits, it is enforceable by the state labor division. Look at your company policy or talk with your employer about PTO caps.

What Are the Labor Law Changes for 2024 in California?

Labor law changes in California in 2024 include:

  • Minimum wage increase. The minimum wage is now $15.50 for all employers, regardless of size. If the local minimum wage is higher, that is the wage employers must abide by. This increase also includes an increase in the minimum salary for exempt employees.
  • Bereavement leave. This is now a protected form of leave that allows five days of unpaid leave.
  • Emergency conditions. There is now protection from retaliation for certain emergency conditions.
  • Extended COVID-19 exposure notice requirements.
  • Agricultural employee overtime pay changes.

Is Unpaid Time Off Allowed in California?

Yes, unpaid time off is allowed if your employer lets you take it. Unpaid time off is not protected if you are taking recreational or vacation time off. Many employers do allow employees to take unpaid time off for these reasons, but it is not required. Under the federal FMLA law, an employer must only provide unpaid time off.

Can an Employer Refuse to Give You Unpaid Leave?

If you are taking unpaid leave for reasons not covered by the FMLA, then your employer is within their rights to refuse your unpaid leave request. Vacation or recreational unpaid leave is up to your employer’s discretion. If you are taking leave to care for a family member, recover from a medical condition, or welcome a new child into your family, this leave is covered by the FMLA. Your employer should allow you unpaid time off for those reasons.

Working With an Employment Attorney

If your employer is denying you leave that you have a right to, you may be able to receive compensation. Talk with the Law Offices of Miguel S. Ramirez today for legal counsel about your employer’s actions.

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