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By stephen of Kristensen, LLP posted in Employment Law -- Employee on Monday, August 24, 2020.
In California, Can My Employer Ask Me to Work When I Am Sick?

Your health should always be your top priority, and it’s also important for the health and well-being of those who come into contact with you. In general, it’s a collective responsibility to be aware of when we may be becoming ill, or if we’ve been exposed to anything contagious that could be passed to us that we can then pass on to others. Sickness is an unfortunate fact of life, but it is a fact nevertheless, and it’s important to manage it as best we can with the goal of minimizing the risks to ourselves and others. This can be made complicated by the fact most of us work full-time jobs, and our sickness is rarely considerate of our busy schedules. In the event we realize we should stay home and rest instead of reporting for our typical work schedule, it’s important to know what your rights are as a worker, and if your employer can ask you to work when you are sick.


In California, all full-time employees are legally guaranteed a minimum of 24 hours, or three work days, of sick leave per 12 month period. Employees earn a minimum of 1 hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Some employers may offer more, but it is not legal to offer less. More importantly, it is not legal for an employer to prohibit an employee from using their sick leave. So the short answer to the question is, no, your employer cannot ask you to work when you are sick.


This topic is black and white, but it can feel complex as an employee who may be worried about the safety of their position, so there are a few other things it is important to note. Paid sick leave is intended to lessen the financial burden on an employee who may need time and rest to recover, but if you are out of paid sick leave that does not mean you can be forced to work – your employer still cannot ask you to work if you are sick, but the time off will be unpaid. It is also important to note ‘sick leave’ covers more than just personal illness, but also caring for a sick child, obtaining a diagnosis, counseling, and more. These are all protected uses of sick leave.


As stated under the California labor code, “An employer shall not deny an employee the right to use accrued sick days, discharge, threaten to discharge, demote, suspend, or in any manner discriminate against an employee for using accrued sick days, attempting to exercise the right to use accrued sick days, filing a complaint with the department or alleging a violation of this article, cooperating in an investigation or prosecution of an alleged violation of this article, or opposing any policy or practice or act that is prohibited by this article.


It is your job to protect yourself, as well as those you may come into contact with, and the law agrees with your right to do so. If your employer is trying to prevent you from doing so, call us – we are here to help.