California Bill Would Increase Sick Days for Employees

March 20, 2023

​A bill recently introduced in the California Legislature would more than double the amount of paid sick days that employers must provide to their workers. The proposal would raise the number of paid sick days from three to seven per year and modify the way the leave must be accrued.

Under existing law, an employer must allow an employee's total accrual of paid sick leave to reach 48 hours or six days per year. The proposal would increase that threshold to 112 hours or 14 days. For unused sick time, workers would be permitted to roll over 56 hours or seven sick days to the following year.

"It is going to be imperative that employers have systems in place to ensure that employees are accruing sick days appropriately," said Tyler Rasmussen, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Irvine, Calif.

No accrual or carryover is required if workers receive their full amount of leave at the beginning of each calendar year or 12-month period. Employers don't have to provide compensation to employees for their accrued, unused sick days upon termination, resignation or retirement.

The bill would apply to employees who work in California for the same employer for 30 or more days within a year from the start of employment. Employees would be entitled to use their accrued paid sick days beginning on their 90th day of employment.

If passed, the bill would take effect on Jan. 1, 2024. Regarding the bill's chances for passage, Rasmussen said, "It is still too early to tell; however, I think the trend in legislation is generally moving toward increases in sick leave for employees."

Philippe Lebel, an attorney with Proskauer in Los Angeles, said, "It is unclear how much support outside of organized labor there is for this kind of broad expansion of paid sick leave in the country's most populous state. Many businesses are still reeling from absences related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which were extremely disruptive. Thus far, there has been limited activity related to [the bill], aside from it being referred to committee in late February."

The interest in paid leave legislation is partly a byproduct of the COVID-19 pandemic and the dramatic impact it had on the workplace and remote work. Employers often provide paid sick days in order to boost retention and prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

"I think this really stems from COVID-19," Rasmussen said. "With more employees who worked from home, as well as the COVID-19 sick leave, employees have become accustomed to a more flexible work schedule and an expectation that they can take more days off work when needed. I think these increases to the sick leave laws are the legislature's way to cement those increased expectations of leave into law."

Practical Steps

Employers with workers in California should consider whether their current leave policies and communication methods would need to be revised. The bill requires employers to give written notice about the amount of paid sick leave available. If the need for paid sick leave is foreseeable, employees need to give the employer notice in advance or as soon as is practical.

"New policies may need to be issued to employees, and management should discuss whether, under these higher sick leave thresholds, employers want to continue to front-load accrual methods, if they are currently implemented," Rasmussen said. "The new accrual amounts will need to be accurately reflected on employee paystubs."

HR professionals should keep in mind any local ordinances that may differ from the state law. Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Monica and Oakland have sick leave ordinances that exceed the requirements under state law, Lebel said.

"Employers with hybrid or fully remote workers need to keep track of where their employees are performing their work for the company, as employees' homes or other remote work locations may impact employees' sick leave entitlements," Rebel said. "This is particularly important in those major metropolitan areas where sick leave requirements vary significantly from one neighboring community to another."

Federal law does not guarantee any paid sick days, but the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period for eligible employees with qualifying reasons for FMLA time off.



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