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California Increases Number of Paid Sick Days

A woman sitting on a couch with a blanket over her shoulders.

​California recently expanded the amount of paid sick leave guaranteed to workers.

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed SB 616, which guarantees employees five paid sick days per year, up from three days previously.

The law requires employers of all sizes to provide 40 hours of accrued sick leave or paid time off by the 200th calendar day of employment or each calendar year or in each 12-month period. It permits employers to limit carryover sick leave to 40 hours or five days per year. It will take effect Jan. 1, 2024.

Full-time, part-time and temporary workers are eligible for paid sick leave if they worked for the same employer for at least 30 days within a year in California and completed a 90-day employment period before taking any paid sick leave. An employee covered by a collective bargaining agreement is not covered by the law if the agreement provides paid sick days or paid time off.

Having more paid sick days could encourage employees to stay at home when they are sick, so they don't spread germs to co-workers or customers. "Too many folks are still having to choose between skipping a day's pay and taking care of themselves or their family members when they get sick," Newsom said.

"Every single working person and especially working parents know that three sick days are not enough," said David Huerta, president of the service employees union SEIU California in Sacramento, Calif. "No one wants workers to come to work sick, but that's exactly what happens when workers face the prospect of losing a large part of their pay."

Business groups expressed concerns about the cost of the extra time off.

"This new mandate will impose significant costs on California businesses, especially small employers already operating on slim margins," said Jennifer Barrera, president of the California Chamber of Commerce in Sacramento, Calif. "Our concern is that far too many small employers simply cannot absorb this new cost, especially when viewed in context of all of California's other leaves and paid benefits, and they will have to reduce jobs, cut wages or raise consumer prices to deal with this mandate."

If the need for paid sick leave is foreseeable, the employee must provide reasonable advance notification. If the need for paid sick leave is unforeseeable, the employee must provide notice of the need for the leave as soon as practicable. Employees do not have to provide a doctor's note to verify their leave was for medical treatment or diagnosis.

"Employers already see examples of abuse with existing sick leave because there is no documentation requirement," said Benjamin Ebbink, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Sacramento, Calif. "Employers will likely have to deal with increased situations where employees are on leave with no ability to verify if it is really for a permissible reason."

Under the state law, an employer cannot require an employee to search for or find a replacement worker to cover the days during which the employee uses paid sick days.

In addition to the paid-sick-leave law, California also has laws granting up to 12 weeks of unpaid family and medical leave, up to five days of bereavement leave, and up to four months of unpaid pregnancy disability leave.

Local sick-leave laws will be pre-empted by the state law if the local laws are less generous, according to Robin Samuel and Benjamin Ho, attorneys with Baker McKenzie in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

To avoid lawsuits, "it's critical to confirm that the company's payroll processor is correctly capturing [paid-leave] allowances and that wage statements are 100 percent accurate," they said.


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