Can an Employer Deny Time-Off Requests?

Almost all employers in California offer some form of discretionary time off for their employees. These can be accrued as sick days, personal holidays, vacation time, personal time off (PTO), or a combination of these when an employer has guidelines or suggestions for which type of leave to use for certain reasons.

So, what if an employee wants to use some of this discretionary time-off – is it their legal right to do so? Not in most cases, at least not if the employee isn’t using the leave for a reason covered by the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or California Family Rights Act (which is very similar to the FMLA).

Under these pieces of legislation, “covered reasons” include the following:

  • The birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child.
  • To provide care for an immediate family member (child, spouse, or parent) who has a serious health condition.
  • To care for the employee’s own serious health condition that prevents them from performing job duties.

Both the FMLA and CFRA allow the employee to take up to a total of 12 weeks of unpaid leave, however, the employee may be protected if he or she wishes to use some of their discretionary paid time-off during such leave as well.

What about More ‘Elective’ Reasons to Take Time off?

Most employers are reasonable enough to approve discretionary time-off requests that aren’t linked to any reasons covered by FMLA or CFRA. In fact, an employee is not obligated to articulate a reason for taking such time off unless it is necessary to inform the employer that their right to take leave is protected by law.

In other words, your discretionary time-off is yours to take if you want to use it to extend a holiday weekend, take a vacation, catch up on errands, or simply get a break from work for no particular reason. That said, your employer is still within their rights to deny discretionary time-off requests and to revoke prior approval for time off for their own reasons, such as dealing with a workplace emergency.

What about Sick Days for Things That Aren’t Serious Health Conditions?

You should avoid using sick days for reasons other than dealing with an illness or medical treatment. Not only will you lack sick days when you legitimately need them, but if your employer discovers that you lied about your need to take sick leave, there could be severe consequences for such dishonesty.

You don’t need to have a serious health condition as defined by FMLA or CFRA to be protected by law, but communicating to your employer that you are using sick time for a legitimate medical need can protect you against having this leave denied. Again, you don’t have to go into detail about how sick you are or what you have, and your employer would be breaking the law by probing to get such information.

Employees can handle the balancing act of giving the employer enough information to know they shouldn’t or can’t ask any further questions by offering the following information:

  • I woke up not feeling well today and won’t be able to come into work.
  • I think I caught a bug of some kind and don’t want to risk spreading it at the office.
  • I need to see a doctor for medical treatment.

Most employers are relatively trusting of their employees, however, and requesting to use sick leave is a non-issue for even moderately reasonable employers.

Do You Need Legal Assistance?

If you believe you were denied time off or protected leave for an illegal reason, Polaris Law Group can help. We have more than 25 years of experience helping employees get what they deserve when their rights are violated by their employers.

Get a free consultation with our attorney today when you call (888) 796-4010 or reach out to us online.
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