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Azadian Law Group
February 12, 2022

Almost every California employer upholds a time off policy for their workforce. Generally, employees can accrue paid time off as they work for their employers, and employers may also offer sick days and other forms of paid time off. However, there are no laws requiring employees to provide specific amounts of unpaid time off to their employers. With this in mind, it is vital to recognize that employees may need to leave work due to forces beyond their control. Unpaid leave is legally protected in some situations, and all employers must abide by the laws that apply to these situations.

Can an employer deny unpaid time off in California?

The two most important laws that can come into play concerning unpaid time off from work in California are the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), enforced at the federal level, and the California Family Rights Act (CFRA), enforced at the state level. The FMLA and the CFRA uphold specific guidelines pertaining to paid time off, and employers must abide by these guidelines. Additionally, California law requires employers to allow employees to start accruing paid sick leave after they have worked for them for 30 days.

How Do the FMLA and CFRA Work?

The FMLA provides job security when employees need to take time off work to address medical issues. For example, they may suffer medical complications of their own or need to care for close family members, such as their spouses, parents, or children. The FMLA requires employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for employees to handle family emergencies, the birth of a child, or attend vital medical treatments. The FMLA extends the unpaid leave requirement to 26 weeks when employees must take leave to address medical situations caused by military service.

The CFRA is enforced at the state level and applies to all employers who have 50 or more employees. The CFRA also requires employers to provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave so employees may address medical emergencies or care for family members struggling with medical complications. California law also requires employers to allow employees to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Denial of Time-Off Requests

Employers generally have the right to refuse requests for paid time off, even when employees have accrued sufficient paid time off hours to cover their request. However, the employer typically needs to provide some valid reason for the denial. Employers must comply with these requests regarding unpaid leave requested under the FMLA or the CFRA.

Some medical issues can appear with very little prior indication. As long as the employee notifies their employer of their medical situation as soon as possible, the notice requirement for taking FMLA or CFRA leave is quite flexible. For example, employers may not interfere with an employee seeking medical treatment or providing in-home care for a family member. Additionally, they may not fire employees who ask for unpaid time off under FMLA and CFRA rules.

Common Unpaid Leave Disputes in California

When an employer interferes with an employee’s request for unpaid leave under the CFRA or FMLA, the employer could face fines and other legal penalties. If an employer fires an employee who asks to take unpaid leave for a legal reason, this amounts to retaliation. The employer could face liability for the employee’s lost income and benefits and other legal penalties.

In some cases, employees need more time than the 12 weeks provided by the CFRA and FMLA to address their medical situations. While most employers are willing to provide a few extra days or weeks in these situations, anything longer than one extra month is likely to constitute an undue hardship for the employer. At this point, the employer would likely have grounds to terminate the employee so they can secure a full-time replacement.

It is also possible that an employer may need to replace an employee while they are on FMLA or CFRA leave. In this situation, as long as the employee can return to an equivalent position to the position they held before their leave, the employer has complied with FMLA.


Q: Can an Employer Deny Unpaid Time Off?

A: Employers in California must comply with requests for unpaid time off filed under FMLA or CFRA guidelines. Failure to do so can lead to severe legal penalties for the employer, and the affected employee would likely have grounds for a civil claim against their employer. Therefore, if your unpaid time off request was unfairly denied, or if you were fired after making your request, you should consult a California employment attorney as soon as possible.

Q: Can an Employer Deny Paid Time Off?

A: Yes, an employer has the right to deny a paid time off request. Employers may deny these requests as long as they have reasonable grounds to do so. For example, if an employee submits a request for a week of vacation and has accrued sufficient hours to cover the week, their employer might grant the request but cancel it at the last minute due to an unforeseen emergency. This can be disappointing and aggravating for the employee, but it is legal as long as the employer has a reason for the denial.

Q: Can You Take Unpaid Time Off in California?

A: No employers in California are obligated to provide employees with unpaid time off, but all employers must comply with the rules of the FMLA and the CFRA. Employees who need to invoke their rights under the FMLA or the CFRA should give their employers as much notice as possible and follow applicable guidelines. If an employer denies an FMLA or CFRA request, the employee will have grounds for legal recourse.

Navigating the employment laws of California can be incredibly challenging, and the law often appears to be one-sided in favor of employers. However, an experienced attorney can help clients determine the best approach to any dispute involving unpaid time off in California. If you need to file an FMLA or CFRA request and have experienced any interference from your employer, contact the Azadian Law Group, PC, today and schedule a consultation with our team.



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