Last week, on August 7, 2015, the DLSE issued its first opinion letter interpreting the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (“Paid Sick Leave Law”), which is codified at California Labor Code section 245 et. seq. and which was recently amended by AB 304, effective July 13, 2015.

As most California employers should now be aware, the Paid Sick Leave Law generally requires employers to provide three days or 24 hours of paid sick leave to an employee who works at least 30 days within a year in California, including part-time, per diem, and temporary employees. Employers may either grant the paid leave up front or, alternatively, allow employees to accrue the paid time off. The question presented to DLSE was how to address the sick leave requirement for an employee who regularly works a ten-hour shift where the employer has opted to follow the front-loading method. Does the employer have to front load thirty hours (the equivalent of that employee’s three days)? Or, rather, does the employer have to front load 24 hours (as referenced in the statute, and because a “day” is typically eight hours)?

The DLSE responded in a three page letter, in which it opined that the Paid Sick Leave Law requires an employer to front load thirty hours in this ten-hour a day scenario. The DLSE reasoned that the Paid Sick Leave Law establishes minimum standards for paid sick leave, and defines “paid sick days” as “time that is compensated at the same wage as the employee normally earns during regular work hours.” (emphasis in original). In order to give effect to this minimum labor standard for all employees, including those that may work more or less than eight hours per day, the language necessarily must be interpreted to require 24 hours or three days, “whichever is more for an employee.” (emphasis in original).

So, with respect to an employee who regularly works a ten hour day, a paid sick day would be the normal full day and the employer with a ten hour per day employee must therefore front load thirty hours in the beginning of the 12 month period. However, an employee who regularly works a six hour day would also be entitled to the minimum amount of leave required under the Paid Sick Leave Law, which for him or her would be 24 hours (e.g., the greater of 24 hours or three days).

The DLSE also clarified that the same analysis would apply when the employer elects to proceed under an accrual system. Under the Paid Sick Leave Law, an employer must allow the employee to accrue up to six days or 48 hours, though the employer may limit the time off to three days or 24 hours. However, in the case of an employee who regularly works a ten hour day, if an employee has accrued 30 hours in his or her sick leave bank, then the employee must be able to use and be paid for the full three days at 10 hours per day. Similarly, the employee who works six hours per day must be permitted to take a minimum of 24 hours of paid sick leave, not only three part-time days.

So far so good, but what happens when the employee normally earns daily or weekly overtime? For example, employers who have not adopted an alternative work week schedule may normally pay overtime to employees who work over eight hours in a day. Some employers may regularly schedule employees for six-day work weeks and pay overtime on the sixth day. If the employee is to be paid “at the same wage as the employee normally earns during regular work hours,” does that include overtime wages? What happens when some employers adjust the shift schedules of employees during their busy season (assume 3 months out of the year) from a regular 8 hour day to a 9 or 10 hour day? How much paid sick leave should the employer provide to such employees if, for instance, the employer has implemented the front load method?  We expect more DLSE answers in the weeks and months to come as DLSE is revising their FAQ section of their website. Please check with us for further updates.