Work is a necessary part of life, required to support your family or your lifestyle. Some find fulfillment and purpose in their jobs, while others simply work to pay the bills. Even those who find great satisfaction from their jobs still need time off to relax and recharge. Many employers include paid vacation as part of the benefits you can receive, but some do not. Regardless of your benefits package, you may be wondering: Can an employer deny unpaid time off in California? 

California Employment Laws

California has strong employment laws that involve all areas related to the employer and employee relationship, including hiring, promotion, and termination. These regulations were created to protect employees as well as establish a safe and successful workplace. Part of a successful work environment includes allowing for time off.

It is not a state law requirement to give paid time off or paid vacation. If an employer does decide to add paid time off as a benefit, they must do so in accordance with state laws. Some employers allow for a specific amount of time off without pay in addition to paid time off and paid vacation time.

Paid Time and Unpaid Time Off

Paid time off is time that employees may take off work while still receiving a paycheck for the non-working period. This kind of pay includes vacation time, which can either be a specific number of days previously determined by the employer or a certain number of hours earned each pay period. 

Both paid time off and vacation time are part of an employee’s earned wages, which an employer must pay. This means employees who leave their positions or are fired and have unused paid time off must be paid out in their final pay

Unpaid time off is time the employee can take off work without being paid. Depending on the individual employer’s policies, there may or may not be a cap on the amount of unpaid time off you can take. Most employers offer this benefit to their employees, allowing them to take off for personal reasons.

For workers who have paid and unpaid time off available to them, it is important to note that an employer can still deny time off for either paid time or unpaid time. If, however, the employee is asking for time off that falls under the protection of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), the employer must grant that request. This allows the employee to take time off to care for a sick family member or attend to other personal emergencies. 

Sick Leave

Sick leave is a part of California’s employment laws and must be paid. This is to give employees the time they need for doctor visits, to receive medical treatment, or to take care of a sick relative. As of January 1, 2024, California employers must give at the minimum forty hours (or five days) of paid sick leave. This law applies to both full-time and part-time employees who meet specific qualifications, such as: 

  • Being employed with the same company for at least thirty days in California within a year’s time
  • Have worked for ninety days before taking paid sick time

Employers have the choice of a sick time policy that gives the employee all their hours at one time or that is earned over time. 

If Your Paid Time Off Goes Unpaid

Sometimes, employers violate their paid time off guidelines in some way. Perhaps you were refused time off even though you had earned it or were not paid for the paid time off you earned after leaving a position. If you haven’t been paid for earned paid time off, you may have grounds for a wage violation claim. In these cases, it can be beneficial to speak with an employment lawyer to help fight for your case. 


Q: Is Paid Time Off Required by Law in California?

A:No, paid time off is not required by law in California. Employers are not even required to provide unpaid time off for employees. If an employer does provide paid vacation time, they must adhere to the guidelines of giving vacation pay. According to California labor law, an earned vacation time is part of earned wages and must be paid to the employee. 

Q: Can My Boss Refuse to Give Me a Day Off?

A: Yes, your boss can usually refuse to give you a day off. This is because paid and unpaid time off is not a law in California. Even if you have available paid time off or sick time, and you request to use it, it still may not be approved. The only time that an employer cannot refuse time off is if the request is related to the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). 

Q: What Do I Do if My Request to Use My Paid Time Off is Denied?

A: If your request to use your paid time off is denied by your employer, the first course of action is to speak with your supervisor. Calmly ask the reasoning behind the refusal. Ask if there is anything that can be done to have it approved. You may be able to negotiate with your supervisor. If you are continually being denied time off, you can speak to your human resources representative or employment attorney

Q: Is My Boss Required to Provide Paid Sick Time?

A: Yes, your boss is required to provide paid sick time. According to California law, paid sick time is a permanent law so that employees can get the necessary medical care. As of January 1, 2024, it is required for employers to give a minimum of forty hours, or five days, of paid sick time for full-time and part-time workers.  

Consult With an Employment Lawyer in California

While work is a necessity to provide for your family or your lifestyle, everyone needs time off at one time or another. You may receive benefits such as paid vacation, paid time off, and sick leave as part of the benefits, but some do not. If you are being denied time off, consult with an employment lawyer. Contact Ferraro Vega San Diego Employment Lawyers to discover how they can help you with your case. 

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About The Author

Nicholas J. Ferraro

Nicholas J. Ferraro is a skilled labor and employment lawyer and the founder of Ferraro Vega Employment Lawyers, Inc. Based in San Diego, he focuses on representing employees in class action and collective litigation cases. Education: Mr. Ferraro attended the University of San Diego School of Law, where he was a member of the San Diego Law Review. Experience: Over a decade of legal practice, representing more than 100,000 employees. Court Admissions: Mr. Ferraro represents his clients throughout the State of California and the State of Washington. He is a member of the State Bar of California. Community Involvement: Active member of the California Employment Lawyers Association and the San Diego County Bar Association.