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Understanding Your Right to Paid Time Off in California

While there isn’t a statutory requirement for employers in California to offer PTO, the state has firm regulations in place for those that do. For example, employers cannot strip you of your hard-earned PTO. They must roll over any unused days from one year to the next. While they can limit the total PTO accumulated over time, they can’t take away what you’ve already accrued. 

It’s essential to familiarize yourself with these rules and ensure your employer respects them, as it’s your hard-earned benefit. Under California law, employers are not required to provide a set amount of PTO to their employees. However, if there is a paid leave benefit in your employee contract, they are legally required to hold up their end of the contract. 

If your employer offers PTO, it is considered part of the “employment contract” between you and your employer.

The Scope of Vacation Laws in California

Vacation policies in the Golden State come with a certain level of protection under state law, considering them akin to earned wages. While employers may have a little leeway, they can’t force a ‘use it or lose it’ policy. 

A ‘use it or lose it’ policy is when an employer demands employees use all their vacation days by a specific date or risk losing them. This is prohibited under the law in California. 

However, employers can implement a reasonable cap to stop you from amassing an infinite stash of vacation time. This policy, however, must be fair, transparent, and properly communicated to the entire workforce. This mustn’t be a backdoor to rob employees of their rightful vacation benefits.

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Minimum PTO Requirements in California

Employers do not have to provide vacation time to employees in California. However, they are legally required to provide the following:


  • Breaks for meals
  • Rest breaks
  • Paid sick time (if you work 30 days a year)
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The Average PTO in California: Setting the Benchmark

Most businesses in California offer similar amounts of PTO for full-time employees. A standard paid time off benefit often consists of the following:


  • 14 days paid vacation (PTO)
  • 2-5 paid personal leave
  • 8 days paid sick leave

Again, in California, offering PTO is not required by law. However, most companies offer a PTO package to remain competitive in their field and because they see firsthand the benefits of their employees having time away from the workplace.

It has been proven that employees with ample PTO have higher job satisfaction, improved mental health, and better quality of life.

Accruing and Using Vacation Time: What You Need to Know

California employers can dictate how their employees earn PTO. Some companies give their team members one week of PTO per year, while others opt to have employees accrue their time off every pay period.

Many employers require a waiting period for new employees to begin accruing their time off. On average, waiting periods vary between one month and six months.

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Legal Recourse: When to File a Lawsuit for PTO Violations

As a protected California employee, you have a right to take legal action if you are owed money by an employer. If your employer has not paid you the wages you are owed for accrued PTO, you can file a wage claim or a lawsuit against this employer.

You can file a wage claim on the California Department of Industrial Relations website. The Labor Commission’s office will investigate the claim to determine what wages or benefits are owed, if any. You must file a wage claim within three years of your employer’s violation of failing to pay PTO or vacation time.

Why Choose Colby Law Firm for Your PTO and Vacation Law Concerns

For decades, we’ve helped hardworking people get the wages they rightfully earned – including PTO and vacation benefits. Employers who fail to treat their employees fairly should be held accountable for their actions, which is precisely what we do.

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Contact Us for a Free Case Evaluation

Colby Law Firm is here to help. We’re happy to provide you with a free case evaluation and discuss next steps with you. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.


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Why Choose

Colby Law Firm

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Aaron Colby is a California employment lawyer who knows how to resolve disputes. After 15 years representing companies, he started Colby Law Firm to represent employees. Aaron’s perspective and experience from being “on the other side” gives him an edge. Aaron brings his practical, focused, and relentless approach to helping employees protect their rights.

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Aaron Colby
Lead Attorney and Founder Colby Law