California just made history as the second state to require paid sick days for employees! On August 30, 2014, the California Legislature passed the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014.
Employees will get three days of sick leave (24 hours) per year
Starting July 1, 2015, employees in California who work for 30 or more days within a year will be entitled to paid sick leave. They will accrue paid sick time at a rate of one hour per 30 hours worked, to a maximum of 24 hours or 3 days per year. Employees will be permitted to use the time off beginning on the 90th day of employment.
Note that these rights are in addition to any existing sick pay policies an employer may have. They serve as a bare minimum for covered employees.
When can paid sick leave be used?
An employee will be able to use the paid sick time for:
- The employee’s own care – whether for diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition or for preventive care;
- Care for the employee’s child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, or sibling – whether for an existing health condition or for preventive care; and
- Certain uses by an employee who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.
Logistics of Using Paid Sick Leave
- An employee can make the request orally or in writing.
- An employee can use paid sick time in increments (it need not be a full day at a time), though the employer can set a reasonable minimum increment no greater than two hours.
- An employee needs to give reasonable advance notice if the leave is foreseeable. Otherwise, the employee should give notice as soon as practicable.
- An employee cannot be required to find their replacement to cover for them when they take sick time.
- The employee will be paid at their regular hourly wage when they take that time. If they have different hourly pay rates, are paid commissions or piece rate, or are salaried employees, then the rate of pay is calculated by dividing total wages (not including overtime) by total hours worked in the full pay periods of the prior 90 days.
- An employer may “lend” paid sick days to an employee in advance of accrual.
- Accrued paid sick days will carry over to the next year of employment, though they can be limited to three days of use in each year of employment and capped at a maximum of six days accrued.
- Employers need not pay out accrued sick pay when employment ends. But, if an employee returns to their job within a year, their unused sick days must be reinstated.
Employers must provide information to employees through written notices and postings
Employers are required to:
- Give information to employees about their paid sick leave rights when hired;
- Provide information to employees about how much paid sick time they have accrued, either on their itemized wage statements or on a separate notice to employees provided on the date wages are paid; and
Retaliation against an employee for using paid sick leave is prohibited
An employer may not deny employees the right to use sick time. In addition, they may not retaliate against them for seeking to use paid sick time, filing a complaint with the Labor Commissioner, or otherwise complaining about or opposing a practice or policy that this law prohibits. Retaliation includes termination, threats of termination, suspension, or other negative actions. The law creates a rebuttable presumption of retaliation if an employer refuses use of paid sick leave time or takes other negative action against an employee within 30 days of their complaining to the Labor Commissioner, opposing unlawful action, filing a complaint, or cooperating in an investigation with respect to the law.
The Labor Commissioner is authorized to enforce the law, including investigating allegations and ordering temporary relief prior to a hearing. The Labor Commissioner can, after a hearing, order reinstatement, backpay, payment of sick pay, and penalties. The Labor Commissioner and Attorney General are also authorized to file in court to enforce the law.
Why is paid sick leave so important?
I have argued before that paid sick leave is essential. Why? Because it protects the health and well-being of everyone–sick workers, their families, and co-workers and customers who would otherwise come into contact with contagious employees who couldn’t take time off.
The findings of the California Legislature are worth repeating in full:
(a) Nearly every worker in the State of California will at some time during the year need some time off from work to take care of his or her own health or the health of family members.
(b) Many workers in California do not have any paid sick days, or have an inadequate number of paid sick days, to care for their own health or the health of family members.
(c) Low-income workers are significantly less likely to have paid sick time than other workers.
(d) Providing workers time off to attend to their own health care and the health care of family members will ensure a healthier and more productive workforce in California.
(e) Paid sick days will have an enormously positive impact on the public health of Californians by allowing sick workers paid time off to care for themselves when ill, thus lessening their recovery time and reducing the likelihood of spreading illness to other members of the workforce.
(f) Paid sick days will allow parents to provide personal care for their sick children. Parental care ensures children’s speedy recovery, prevents more serious illnesses, and improves children’s overall mental and physical health.
(g) Providing paid sick days is affordable for employers and good for business.
(h) Employers who provide paid sick days enjoy greater employee retention and reduce the likelihood of employees coming to work sick. Studies have shown that costs of decreased productivity caused by sick workers exceed the costs of employee absenteeism.
(i) Many adults have significant elder care responsibilities requiring them to take time off from work or to work reduced hours.
(j) Employees frequently lose their jobs or are disciplined for taking sick days to care for sick family members or to recover from their own illnesses.
(k) Workers whose jobs involve significant contact with the public, such as service workers and restaurant workers, are very unlikely to have paid sick days. Often, these workers have no choice but to come to work when they are ill, thereby spreading illness to coworkers and customers.
(l) Domestic violence and sexual assault affect many persons without regard to age, race, national origin, sexual orientation, or socioeconomic status.
(m) Domestic violence is a crime that has a devastating effect on families, communities, and the workplace. It impacts productivity, effectiveness, absenteeism, and employee turnover in the workplace. The National Crime Survey estimates that 175,000 days of work each year are missed due to domestic violence.
(n) Survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault may be vulnerable at work when trying to end an abusive relationship because the workplace may be the only place where the perpetrator knows to contact the victim. Studies show that up to one-half of domestic violence victims experience job loss. Forty percent reported on-the-job harassment. Nearly 50 percent of sexual assault survivors lose their jobs or are forced to quit in the aftermath of the assaults.
(o) Affording survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault paid sick days is vital to their independence and recovery.
This law is a wonderful victory and calls for celebration! However, many who pushed for the passage of this law see it as a starting point. Three days of sick pay can be wiped out with one bad case of the flu or food poisoning, leaving employees without protections if they get sick again within the same year. However, just as paid sick leave has been a success in the cities that have enacted it, I believe it will be a success throughout California – and will be expanded accordingly!
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 Most California employees are covered. However, exclusions have been made for those covered by certain collective bargaining agreements, some workers who provide in-home services, and certain employees working for air carriers.