Employers have significant discretion over how much sick time, vacation time, paid time off, or personal days they will permit their employees to take. They may set these policies for all employees. If you received an employment handbook, you may find your employer's policy there. Generally, an employer also has control over the nuances of such benefits as vacation time. For example, they may or may not provide paid vacation, and they may cap the paid vacation that you can accrue, requiring you to take some of the vacation before accruing any more.
Family and Medical Leave Act
There are certain aspects of time off of work that are governed by federal or state laws. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, eligible employees of covered employers are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year if a triggering event is present. The events that can trigger your entitlement include needing to care for a seriously ill immediate family member (such as your child, parent, or spouse), your own need to rest and recover from a serious health problem, the birth of a child, the placement of a child with your family for adoption, and handling certain matters related to a family member's military service.
Covered employers are also supposed to provide employees with up to 26 weeks off to take care of a child, parent, or spouse who incurred or experienced a worsening of a serious illness or injury while serving in the military. The FMLA only applies to employers that have a minimum of 50 employees, and there are other criteria for eligibility.
Additional Rights Under State Laws
State laws may also provide the possibility of time off of work for family and medical reasons. For example, California has laws providing family and medical leave, and it has two state insurance programs that provide benefits to workers who are not able to work due to family or health reasons. You should check your state's laws before assuming that you are not entitled to time off of work to address family or health issues.
The federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) also provides for the right to take time off of work for five years to serve in the United States military and be reinstated to your job. Your employer is not allowed to retaliate against you for taking military leave. You can only be terminated for good cause for up to a year after coming back to the job from service, even if your employment is otherwise at will.
There are also state laws that protect military leave and require that you be reinstated after taking it. For example, you are entitled to unpaid leave with reinstatement in California if you are called to active duty in the National Guard. California employers are not allowed to discriminate against you because you are in the military. Also, they cannot terminate or restrict your seniority if you are temporarily disabled for up to 52 weeks as a result of your duty in the Naval Militia or National Guard.
Time Off for Civic Duties
You may also be able to take time off of work to fulfill your civic duties. Most states prohibit employers from terminating or disciplining employees who take time off to vote, but they do not require that you be paid for your time off to vote. However, there may be certain requirements that you need to meet to take time off, such as showing that you actually voted. Many states prohibit employers from disciplining or terminating an employee who takes time off to serve on a jury. This time off is likely to be unpaid, or you may be paid by the state for your service at a very low rate. You should check your own state's laws regarding time off of work either to vote or to sit on a jury.