Paid &

Unpaid Leave

Employers have many different forms of paid and unpaid leave that they can choose to offer employees, so long as the employer carefully follows the mandates of California law. 


Types of Paid Leave


CA Paid Parental Leave, Sick Leave, Paid Time Off (PTO), Vacation Leave, and Personal Leave

Types of Unpaid Leave


Family and Medical Leave (FMLA), CA Pregnancy Disability Leave, CA New Parent Leave Act, and CA Family Rights Act (CRFA), Unpaid Time Off, and School-Related Leave.

COVID Emergency Relief 


Many temporary benefits are available for California workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, including several types of state and federal paid leave, such as to care for an ill or quarantined family member, or if you are unable to work (or telework) because you are caring for a child whose school or place of care has been closed, along with numerous other COVID relief resources. See the detailed chart below developed by the California Labor & Workforce Development Agency. (1)


Summary Chart: Benefit for Workers Impacted by COVID-19

Paid & Unpaid Leave Tips & Tools (2)

  • Cultivate a supportive culture around leave-taking, including educating managers and other staff about how the use of paid leave improves employee morale, productivity, and retention.

  • Train managers and supervisors to recognize specific leave requests.

  • Communicate leave policies to employees as part of the organization’s new-hire process and regularly remind staff to raise general awareness.

  • Encourage senior and executive staff to set a positive example by taking leave when they are eligible and not returning to work too quickly.

  • Have employees request time off, and have approved, either paid or unpaid, as soon as possible or as soon as reasonable.

  • Maintain open communication between employees and supervisors about scheduling needs.

  • Design a formal off-ramping plan for employees taking leave.

  • Ensure that leave policies are offered uniformly.

  • Cover a diverse range of family and care relationships in leave policies.

  • Provide for some additional flexibility.

  • Maintain a competitive advantage in hiring and retention by “topping up” state benefits so that employees receive a greater share of their usual wages or providing a greater duration of leave beyond what the state provides.

  • Cross-train employees so they can cover positions while someone is away, so employees do not feel unable to take leave when needed, because "they are the only one who can do the job."

  • Inform employees if they can be required to use accrued paid time off for leave.

  • Know that an employer can ask you for a doctor’s note or other health information for leave or even proof that the employee took time off for school activity-related purposes.

  • Make it easier for employees to transition back to work by offering a gradual return to work program.


CA Paid Parental Leave




California workers who pay into the State Disability Insurance can get up to eight weeks of partial pay a year while taking time off from work to care for a new child or sick family member under the California Paid Family Act, subject to certain restrictions. This leave was extended from six to eight weeks in September 2020 with the signing of SB1383.



Partial or fully paid parental leave makes families more financially stable, gives birth mothers the ability to take sufficient time to recover from childbirth, allows fathers and adoptive parents important time to bond with newborn children, and positively impacts infant outcomes such as birth weight and infant mortality.


  • It allows time to bond with and care for a newborn or newly adopted child.

  • It contributes to better health outcomes for both infants and toddlers.

  • It helps brain development for the child. (3)

  • It helps lay a solid foundation for healthy relationships and the ability to learn. (3)

  • It is also associated with health benefits for new mothers, including declines in depressive symptoms. (4) 

  • It may also help prevent child maltreatment. (5)  

  • Parents become less likely to require public assistance, a family's income is less likely to drop below the poverty level. (6)


Research on the Benefits of Paid Family Leave are Far-Reaching and Show:


  • Reduced infant mortality - A 10-week extension in paid leave reduced the death rate in infants from one to 12 months old by 6%. (7) 

  • Increased paternal involvement - Fathers who take two or more weeks off after a child’s birth are more involved in that infant’s care than fathers who take no leave. (8)  

  • Higher immunization rates - Children whose families have paid family leave have higher immunizations rates and are more likely to complete timely well-child check-ups. (9) 

  • Improved employee retention - Women with paid family leave are 93% more likely to still be working at their employer one year after the birth of a child than those who take no leave. (10)

  • Better talent attraction - In a Deloitte survey, 77% of workers said that paid family leave policies sway their choice of employers. (11) 

  • Reinforced company values - Company leaders frequently cite improved paid family leave policies as reinforcing the organization's core values. (12)

  • Improved employee engagement - In an Ernst & Young survey, more than 90% of companies with paid family leave reported a positive impact on morale. More than 70% reported a boost in productivity. (13) 

  • Enhanced brand equity - Improving paid family leave policies attracts media attention. This can be particularly true for early movers in an industry or companies offering new or more expansive policies. (12)

  • Employers report no negative effects from new leave law - Employers who have been affected by California’s paid family leave requirements reported that the program had a neutral or positive effect on business. (14)


READ MORE: Overview of California's Paid Family Leave Act and SB 1383

Sick Leave



California paid sick leave law provides most employees in the state with paid time off if they need to be absent for medical reasons or to care for a sick family member under the Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act of 2014 (HWHFA). Subject to certain restrictions, exemptions, and limitations that you need to understand after consulting with your legal advisor.



Paid sick leave allows employees job-protected time off to address their basic health needs and that of their families, while not endangering their financial stability.  In a family in which all adults are working, parents without paid sick leave face difficult decisions when their children are ill. Some parents send a sick child to school, some leave the sick child home alone, and others keep an older child home from school to care for the one who is sick. (15)

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 12% of U.S. food workers (among those least able to earn sick leave) had worked at least two shifts with flu-like symptoms during the previous year, illustrating one of the reasons that paid sick leave is a public health issue. (16)


  • It gives employees time to recover from their illness or care for sick children.

  • They can use the time to seek preventative care.

  • It reduces the risk of spreading disease and serious illness between employees.

  • It increases employee morale and overall job satisfaction.

  • It reduces "presenteeism," a condition in which employees are present but unproductive at work due to illness.

  • Healthy workers are safer and less likely to be injured on the job. (17)

Read More

Paid Time Off  




The combination of one collective "paid time off" (PTO) versus tracking sick, vacation, and personal time off for employees. In California, employers are not required to provide any paid vacation or PTO to their employees, however employers who choose to offer vacation must follow certain guidelines



Employees can determine how best to use their paid time off, are more likely to arrange absences in advance, and are less likely to call in sick when they need time off for personal business.  Additionally,  it reduces record-keeping for employers and has been shown to reduce unscheduled absences.

Vacation Leave




Paid time off offered to employees for vacation. In California, employers are not required to provide any paid vacation or paid time off (PTO) to their employees, however employers who choose to offer vacation must follow certain guidelines.



This time off allows employees to recharge mentally and physically and enables families to rest and spend time together.


  • Employees with paid vacation leave have lower rates of stress and depression. (18)

  • The Society for Human Resource Management has found that employers who encourage employees to take vacation time see a reduction in turnover, workers’ compensation claims, and health care costs, as well as an increase in productivity.

  • Some employers require employees to take a minimum amount of vacation time each year. (19)

Personal Leave


Paid time off which is designated for "general leave" purposes, such as functions for children, appointments or to deal with a personal/private matter.


Supporting parents through paid personal leave is closely connected to children's academic achievement and behavioral health. Personal leave directly affects both the employee and the child.

Family and Medical Leave (FMLA), CA Pregnancy Disability Leave, CA New Parent Leave Act and CA Family Rights Act (CFRA)


The FMLA  federal law requires employers provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to allow employees to bond with a new child, care for oneself because of a serious health condition, care for certain ill family members (i.e., child, spouse, parent), or care for a military service member with a serious injury or illness. The FMLA only applies to private employers with 50 or more employees and public-sector agencies. Other restrictions may apply.


The CA Pregnancy Disability Leave Act provides up to 4 months of protected leave during any period during which they are unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. Time may be taken before or after the birth of the child. This applies to employers with five or more employees. Other restrictions may apply.


California’s New Parent Leave Act allows an employee to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to bond with a newborn or a child placed with the employee for adoption or foster care. Covers employers of 20 or more employees and all public agencies. 


Employees who pay into California State Disability (SDI) may apply for partial wage replacement during New Parent Leave Act bonding leave through California’s Paid Family Leave program (PFL). Visit: Check your pay stub to see if you pay into State Disability Insurance. Employees may also use accrued vacation pay, paid sick time, other accrued paid time off, or other paid or unpaid time off negotiated with the employer, during their parental leave. Otherwise, the leave may be unpaid. Other restrictions may apply.

CA Family Rights Act (CFRA) authorizes eligible employees to take up to a total of 12 weeks of paid or unpaid job-protected leave during a 12-month period. Generally, it mirrors the federal FMLA but also includes registered domestic partners. Other restrictions may apply.

Limitations of FMLA and Other Unpaid Medical Leave Policies (20)


  • Only 60 percent of the workforce is eligible for FMLA protections and many small employers are excluded from the law. 

  • Many workers who are eligible for the FMLA are unaware of the law’s benefits and eligibility requirements– Nearly 24% of family caregivers are unfamiliar with the FMLA. This is especially true for workers who are younger, lower-income, or multicultural.

  • Unpaid family leave causes financial hardships for working families and discourages use. At least half of FMLA employees who did not use it said it was because of a “lack of pay." 

  • Nearly two-thirds of all FMLA leave takers reported having some trouble making ends meet due to their time off, and about half reported serious financial hardship.

  • Employed family caregivers who take unpaid family leave lose an estimated $1.7 billion in wages.

Read More


California Department of Fair Employment and Housing: PDL, CFRA, NPLA, and FMLA Requirements and Obligations

Unpaid Time Off


Unpaid time off (UTO) is a time away from work without pay that an employee can take. Employees may sometimes request UTO if they are sick, want to take a holiday, or have other personal obligations and do not have a sufficient paid time off balance.



While unpaid leave does not provide wages, it does ensure employment continuity and prevents the loss of employer-paid benefits, such as vacation time or health insurance coverage.

School-Related Leave


The Family-School Partnership Act is a California law that allows parents, grandparents, and guardians to take time off from work to participate in their children's school or child care activities, such as attending events, school conferences, or disciplinary meetings.  See restrictions, exemptions, and limitations.



  • The law protects the rights of family members to participate in school-related activities such as volunteering in the class, field trips, helping with fundraisers, school-sponsored sporting events, or parent-teacher conferences, without facing consequences in the workplace. 

  • As parental involvement in a child’s education is closely connected to the child’s academic achievement, supporting a parent’s involvement in a child’s school activities offers an important family-friendly benefit.

Read More


The California Teachers Association: Family-School Partnership Act FAQS



  1. CA Labor & Workforce Development Agency (LWDA). (n.d.). Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) resources for employers and workers.

  2. National Partnership for Women and Families. (n.d.). Meeting the promise of paid leave: Best practices in the state paid leave implementation. National Partnership for Women and Families.

  3. Zigler, E., Muenchow, S., & Ruhm, C. (2012). Time off with the baby. Zero to Three the National Center.

  4. Chatterji, P., & Markowitz, S. (2012). Family leave after childbirth and the mental health of new mothers. The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, 15(2), 61–75.

  5. Klevens, J., Luo, F., Xu, L., Peterson, C., & Latzman, N. E. (2016). Paid family leave’s effect on hospital admissions for pediatric abusive head trauma. Injury Prevention, 22(6), 442–445.

  6. Klerman, J. A., Daley, K., & Pozniak, A. (2012). Family and medical leave in 2012: Technical report. ABT Associates.

  7. Shim, J. (2016). Family leave policy and child mortality: Evidence from 19 OECD countries from 1969 to 2010. International Journal of Social Welfare, 25(3), 215–221.

  8. Nepomnyaschy, L., & Waldfogel, J. (2007). Paternity leave and fathers’ involvement with their young children: Evidence from the American ECLS–B. Community, work, and family. Community, Work & Family, 10(4), 427–453.

  9. Kamerman, S. B. (2006). Parental leave policies: The impact on child well-being. (International Review of Leave Policies and Related Research, Department of Trade and Industry, pp. 16–21).

  10. Houser, L., & Vartanian, T. P. (2012). Pay matters: The positive economic impacts of paid family leave for families, businesses, and the public (p. 19). A report of the Center for Women and Work.

  11. Deloitte Development LLC. (2016). Parental Leave Survey.

  12. The Boston Consulting Group. (2017). Why Paid Family Leave Is Good Business.

  13. Ernst and Young. (2017). Viewpoints on paid family and medical leave: Findings from a survey of U.S. employers and employees,.

  14. Appelbaum, E., & Milkman, R. (2011). Leaves that pay: Employer and worker experiences with paid family leave in California. Center for Economic and Policy Research Publication.

  15. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. (2011). Briefing paper: Denver paid sick days would promote children’s school success.

  16. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Environmental Health Services. (n.d.). Food workers working when they are sick.

  17. Minnesota Department of Health Center for Health Equity. (2015). White paper on paid leave and health. Minnesota Department of Health Center for Health Equity.

  18. Leonard, B. (2013, July 30). Employee vacations are good for business. SHRM.

  19. Aumann, K., & Galinsky, E. (2009). The state of health in the American workforce: Does having an effective work- lace matter?

  20. Feinberg, L. F. (2018). Breaking new ground: Supporting employed family caregivers with workplace leave policies. AARP Public Policy Institute.

Disclaimer: This document is being provided as a general guide to employers to consider implementing certain family-friendly policies and procedures within their respective organizations. This document is not an exhaustive list of programs, nor does it set out all of the legal or tax requirements with respect to certain programs. Before implementing any of the programs in this guide, employers should carefully consider the impact on the organization and should consult legal and/or tax counsel and their human resources professional. First 5 San Luis Obispo County does not provide legal advice or human resources consultation, and this document is not intended to, and should not be relied on to, provide legal or human resources advice.

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