California Workers May Be Covered by Several Paid-Sick-Leave Laws

Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP By Lisa Nagele-Piazza, J.D., SHRM-SCP November 20, 2018

Complying with multiple paid-sick-leave laws isn't easy for employers, particularly in California, where workers may be covered by state, local and industry-specific rules.

State and municipal governments are enacting employment laws where there's an absence of legislation on the federal level, said Lori Armstrong Halber, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Philadelphia. She was speaking on a panel at the recent American Bar Association's 2018 Labor and Employment Law Conference.

Paid sick leave is an area for which employers have to consider layers of different requirements at the state, local and industry levels, noted Diamond Hicks, an attorney with Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in Pasadena, Calif. It's "a little bit daunting … even for attorneys."

Here's how the patchwork of local laws affect California businesses.

Requirements Vary

California's Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act covers all employees who work in the state for at least 30 days in a 12-month period for the same employer. Full-time, part-time and temporary workers must accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours they work, though employers may limit the use of paid sick leave to 24 hours (or three days) per year. 

In addition to the statewide law, Berkeley, Emeryville, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Monica each have their own paid-sick-leave ordinances. The leave allowances under these laws are more generous than the statewide law, but each one has slightly different requirements.

For example, workers in Berkeley and Emeryville may accrue up to 48 or 72 hours per year, depending on employer size. Small employers in Berkeley are defined as those with fewer than 25 employees, whereas in Emeryville, businesses with 55 or fewer employees are considered small businesses.

Employers should also look for any industry-specific rules. For example, hotels in the city of Los Angeles with at least 150 guest rooms must provide additional paid and unpaid time off to full- and part-time workers. Long Beach also has paid-leave requirements for hotel workers.

[SHRM members-only how-to guide: How to Comply with California's Paid Sick Leave Requirements]

Compliance becomes particularly challenging when employees travel between jurisdictions. "It can get very granular," Hicks said. For instance, some local requirements are triggered when an employee spends at least two hours a week in the city.

Unionized employers should note that under certain conditions, paid-sick-leave rules may not apply to employees who are covered by a collective bargaining agreement.

Tips for Employers

Businesses generally must follow whatever requirement is the most generous to the employee, Hicks noted. She recommended that employers consider the following questions when developing policies and procedures:

  • Are there differences for large and small businesses, and how are those businesses defined?
  • Which employees are covered?
  • Is there an accrual cap, and if so, what is it?
  • Can employers limit annual use?
  • Must employees be allowed to carry over a certain amount of accrued time from year to year?
  • What are the reasons for which employees can take leave?
  • What are the notice requirements?

Employers should carefully review their policies, Hicks said. "Look at how you're defining vacation or paid time off and whether sick time is included." Employers will also need to evaluate how they discipline employees with attendance issues to ensure their policies don't violate workers' leave rights.

Federal Level

There are several proposals that may ultimately result in a federal paid-leave law, but whether any of them will come to fruition isn't clear, Hicks said. "It's moving rather slowly."

"I think that eventually it will happen," Halber said. "As our legislators get comfortable with [enacting paid-leave laws] in their own locality, it becomes more palatable on the federal level, but I don't think it's going to be immediate."

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) "supports efforts to assist employees in meeting the dual demands of work and personal needs and believes that employers should be encouraged to voluntarily offer paid leave to their employees," according to SHRM's 2018 guide to public policy issues.

[Visit SHRM's resource page on paid time off.]



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