Can California Employers Require a Doctor’s Note for Paid Sick Leave?

In 2014, California passed the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act, becoming the second state in the country to provide paid sick leave to employees. Regardless of how large or small your business is, employees can begin accruing sick leave after 90 days of employment (there are a few exceptions for union, airline, and in-home care workers).

Employees will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. You may cap accrual at 48 hours (or six days), so employees will stop earning paid sick time until some time already earned is used. Unused paid sick leave must be allowed to carry forward from year to year. Some employers choose to make a lump sum of 3 paid sick days available to employees at the beginning of the year to avoid the administrative hassle of calculating accrual as employees’ schedules change throughout the year. As long as employers provide the minimum of 3 paid sick days to all eligible employees this lump sum method is OK. Sick time does not have to be paid out to employees upon termination.

Employers can limit how much paid sick leave employees may use per year to 24 hours, or 3 days. Employers can also require that paid sick leave be taken in at least 2-hour increments. Aside from these restrictions, employers should allow employees to use their sick time freely. California’s sick leave law allows employees to take sick leave for their own health condition or the health condition of a family member, including preventative treatment. “Family member” is defined broadly and includes a spouse, domestic partner, parent, child, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, and sibling. Employees may also take sick leave if they are victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

While it is a common practice to ask employees for a “doctor’s note” when sick time is requested, this is not an HR best practice. Sick leave may be used for many reasons other than an employee’s own illness, and there is no obligation for employees to share the details of their personal situation with their employer. The CA Department of Industrial Relations has specifically stated: “An employer is expressly prohibited from denying an employee the right to use accrued sick days, and from discharging, threatening to discharge, demote, suspend, or in any manner discriminate against an employee, or for attempting to exercise the right to use accrued sick days.”

On the topic of doctor’s notes, the agency went on, “An employer’s requirements for documentation of the absence when made a condition for payment as paid sick leave can arguably interfere with the employees use of paid sick leave… Should an employer require such documentation, deny compensation or take other disciplinary action because an employee fails to provide it, an employer may be liable for retaliation.”

The law gives express protections to employees and the free use of paid sick leave. Employers should be cautious when asking for doctor’s notes or other documentation for requested sick leave. Denying sick leave benefits, even if supporting documentation is not provided leaves employers open to retaliation complaints.

Do not confuse sick time with a leave of absence. Once an employee’s sick time benefit is exhausted, if employees wish to remain absent that may be considered a disability leave and employers may request documentation in that case. Leaves, sick time, vacation time, paid time off (PTO), and unlimited/flexible/non-accruing time off all have different treatments under the law. Contact ABD SharedHR if you’d like guidance on the differences and how they apply to your business.

Megan Coen – Executive HR Consultant, VP

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals.

Bay Area Human Resources Services


There is just something magical about summertime! Longer days that lead to endless possibilities. When the sun comes out to play, does your inner child want to run outside to soak up its vitamin D and celebrate? Unsurprisingly, this desire to get outside and recharge, coupled with the need to remain on top of things at work, can cause stress. If you have ever felt like trying to achieve work-life balance in the summer months feels like adding one more item on your to do list, let’s break it down and keep it simple. A little planning can make a big difference. Here are a few tips for balancing your professional life and personal time this Summer:

Triple P – Plot, Prep, Play

One thing we can count on during the summertime is the allure of an impromptu invitation: pool party, backyard BBQ, long weekend, etc. Before you know it, your calendar can fill up quickly. Not to worry, you can still accept social invitations, stay on top of your office commitments, and find time to enjoy yourself— just do your best to plan ahead, communicate, and reassess! Plot out any scheduled time off you have and be sure that you have prioritized your PTO around your professional commitments/deadlines to avoid a last-minute scurry and be sure to schedule some outside time every day! Go for a walk during breaks and walk or ride your bike to work if you can. Tips: routinely update your calendar, schedule every meeting, allocate designated time in the morning and afternoon to check emails and focus on your priorities in between. Communication is also key in reducing stress. Make sure that your family, friends and colleagues know your schedule and everyone is on the same page. Having the bulk of your summer schedule and office commitments plotted out ahead of time, and clearly communicated, will allow you to embrace spontaneity in these magical summer moments!

Embrace the Power of Saying No

If one of your summertime goals is to rest and recharge, empower yourself to politely decline invitations that feel more like an obligation than an opportunity for rejuvenation. Do what makes you happy: life is short, summertime is even shorter. If accepting a week-long camping trip begins to give you hives just thinking about it, or lounging by the pool gives you anxiety, just say no [thank you]. Focus on saying yes to things that allow you to create moments of joy and connection with your family and friends.

Clock Out

As a busy professional you are likely inundated with new responsibilities daily. While trying to do it all undoubtedly creates stress, it’s important to take measures to alleviate this workplace stress. Clock out! Clocking out, both physically and mentally, is critical to enjoying the summer months. Setting summer hours, and sticking to them, will allow you the necessary time to relax and recharge. This will mean avoiding the temptation to work from your smartphone or virtual office tools while you are off the clock. Tips: set yourself up for success by using technology to your advantage. For example, set up a thorough out of office reply to your e-mail account with your summer hours and/or the best points of contact in your absence, to ensure that your personal time is being communicated clearly to your colleagues and clients. To avoid the temptation to work off the clock, establish times to disconnect entirely; turn off your devices completely if you need to. These tools should be used to help you find better stability between home and office, not drag you deeper into the stress of your work.

Work-life balance in the summertime often favors life outdoors over work, and this is a good thing. Embrace the summer and savor in every delicious moment. Winter will be back before you know it.

Stephanie Clark – Senior HR Consultant

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals.

Bay Area Human Resources Services