Can an Employer Deny Unpaid Time Off in California?

HomeBlogCan an Employer Deny Unpaid Time Off in California?
Can an Employer Deny Unpaid Time Off in California?
Jan 01

Taking time away from work is important. When you have time to relax and take care of yourself and your family, you improve your health and quality of life. Working too much can cause burnout, as well as other health complications and negative side effects. Working through illness or personal turmoil can make those situations worse.

Unfortunately, paid time off (PTO) is not mandatory in California. Many people lose valuable income when they have to take time off. Others are given a concrete number of days they may take off per year to be used for either personal time or illnesses.

Under certain circumstances, an employer can deny an employee’s request for time off. Under others, denial of time off is illegal. The situation is often murky and dependent on the circumstances.

Can You Take Unpaid Time Off in California?

Even if you work at a job that doesn’t offer PTO, it is usually much simpler to request unpaid time off. For example, many employers will allow unpaid time off for vacations, but they are not obligated to do so. However, there are certain circumstances in which an employer must allow unpaid time off, regardless of their policy.

The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) says that employers must allow up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid time off to do the following:

  • Recover from an illness, surgery, or health condition
  • Care for a loved one who is ill or injured
  • Bond with a newborn child
  • Deal with certain matters surrounding a family member’s military service

The above categories are protected by federal law and therefore allow you to take up to 12 weeks off annually. However, situations that do not fall under the above umbrella are a different story.

What Rights Do I Have If My Employer Denies Unpaid Time Off?

If one of the above situations occurs in your life, your employer must allow you to take unpaid time off unless you’ve exceeded your 12-week maximum. However, if you are trying to take unpaid time off for a reason that is not covered by federal statute, your employer does not have to allow you to do so. Your reasoning matters: if you tell your employer that you need four weeks off to take care of your spouse after surgery, they must allow you to do so, but they don’t have to pay you. If you tell your employer that you need four weeks off to take a road trip, they are not legally required to give you the time off.

In some circumstances, you may have grounds for legal action if your employer denies your unpaid time off request but does not give a true and valid reason for the denial.

For example, imagine you want to take a 4-week unpaid vacation. Your employer denies the request because a large merger is about to occur, and they need your contributions. In this case, they are within their legal rights to deny your request. However, if they deny your request because they “just want you in the office,” you may have the right to question the legality of their actions.

Can an Employer Change Their Decision on Time Off Requests?

A similar logic applies to changes in time off permission. In many situations, an employer can legally change their mind about an unpaid time off request, even at the last minute. However, their reasoning must be sound.

For example, let’s say that your employer agrees to allow you four weeks of unpaid leave for a vacation. However, a week before your trip, there is a company emergency. The employer rescinds permission because they need you in the office. Though the situation is frustrating, the employer has a valid reason and is likely within their rights to make this change. If their rationale was less reasonable, such as “deciding it wouldn’t be a good idea,” you may be able to take action.

Can an Employer Terminate Your Employment for Taking Time Off?

It’s important to remember that no one can force you to work. Labor laws simply state that your employer can’t fire you if you take time off for certain, covered reasons. Thus, if the employer denies an unpaid time off request for a legitimate reason, you can decide to take time off anyway.

If you take unapproved time off, the employer does have the right to terminate your employment. Employers are only prohibited from terminating your employment if you take 12 or fewer weeks of unpaid leave in any given year for a protected reason. Workplace policy may not override federal or state law.

Can You Receive Income During Time Off?

While your employer does not need to pay you while taking unpaid leave, you may be able to receive funding from the state of California via temporary disability insurance. Either disability insurance or paid family leave wage replacement benefits can pay up to 55% of your normal wages and are not taxed. Though this isn’t your usual income, many people are able to stay afloat during emergencies with this kind of support.

Please note that you do have to apply for disability insurance, even if temporary. You may be approved or denied based on your unique circumstances. It’s possible that the state may decide that your household has enough income and decide that you don’t qualify for temporary disability payments.

Find a Skilled Employment Law Attorney

The attorneys at Clark Employment Law, APC, can review your situation and identify whether your employer’s actions are legal. If they are, we may be able to help you secure funding from state programs. If they are acting illegally, we can help you take legal action to get what you deserve. For more information, contact us.


Can an Employer Deny Unpaid Time Off in California?

The simple answer is yes. The law doesn’t require California employers to offer unpaid time away. However, if it is for an illness or crisis, then it may be covered under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act. In this situation, your job will be protected if you require unpaid time off.

Can You Take Unpaid Time Off in California?

Whether your employer gives you unpaid time off depends on your situation, your employer, and your position in the company. Unless you have an issue covered by the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act, the law doesn’t require your employer to give you this time off. However, if you are denied paid time off, it might be best to discuss your case with a California employment attorney.

Will the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act Protect My California Job?

Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave provide wage replacement benefits exclusively and will not protect your job. However, other employee leave laws, like FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) and CFRA (California Family Rights Act), may offer protection for your job. Discuss your situation with our firm to learn more.

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