California’s New Paid Sick Leave Law

September 4, 2014

On August 30, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, adding sections 245-249 to the Labor Code. Beginning July 1, 2015, all employers, including public sector employers, must provide at least three paid sick days per year to employees, including temporary and part-time workers. At first glance, the law seems similar to San Francisco’s 2006 paid sick-leave law.

The law is intended to provide a safety net for the estimated seven million California workers who cannot otherwise afford to take time away from work when they are sick. The impact may be greatest for low wage, part-time or temporary employees in sectors such as the fast food industry.

Paid Sick Leave Requirements

Subject to certain specific carve outs, the law covers all employees, including exempt employees such as managers and supervisors who work for more than 30 days per year.  Briefly, it requires that

  • paid sick days must accrue at a rate of a least one hour per 30 hours worked, beginning on the first day worked,
  • the employee must be able to begin to use sick days beginning on the 90th day of employment,
  • payment for sick days must be included in the paycheck immediately following their use,
  • employers may cap the accrual of paid sick days at 48 hours or 6 days per year, and the use of those days to 24 hours or 3 days per year and
  • unused sick days may be carried over into the following year, need not be paid out on termination, but must be restored if a terminated employee is reinstated in fewer than 12 months.

The provisions do not replace any more generous arrangements, such as paid time off policies, certain negotiated agreements and arrangements otherwise covered by law, including:

  • collective bargaining agreements that provide for paid sick leave for workers who make more than 30 percent above the minimum wage,
  • collective bargaining agreements in the construction industry that waive coverage under the law or
  • compensatory time off for flight crew members covered by the Railway Labor Act.

Somewhat more controversially, it does not cover certain home healthcare workers covered by California’s Welfare and Institutions Code.

Use of Paid Sick Days

The employee may use sick days for the care of himself, herself or a family member, including a registered domestic partner. The provisions also specifically include victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.  Employees must notify the employer, either orally or in writing, of foreseeable needs for time off and cannot be required to find a replacement worker.

Notices and Record Keeping

Employers must include paid sick days on wage statements or separate statements included with a paycheck and display a poster describing employee rights with respect to paid sick days. They must also keep records of hours worked and sick leave accruals for a period of three years.

Penalties and Enforcement

The posting requirement carries a $100 penalty per offense.  While providing a safe harbor for unintentional or isolated record keeping errors, the law assesses cumulative penalties for willful violations up to an aggregate of $4,000, in addition to equitable remedies including back pay, reinstatement, and payment of sick days unlawfully withheld. The law does not provide a private right of action, however.  Enforcement is purview of the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement or the state attorney general.

In the much the same spirit as recent increases in the minimum wage, California’s new paid sick leave law moves to protect the welfare of the state’s most vulnerable workers.  In a nod to the new administrative burden, the law also gives employers ten months to make necessary adjustments.

Anne Wallace, Esq.

By

Anne Wallace is a New York lawyer who writes extensively on legal and business issues. She also teaches law and business writing at the college and professional level. Anne graduated from Fordham Law School and Wellesley College.

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