Why it matters 

Employers in California face a host of new laws set to take effect in the coming months. In the next few issues of the newsletter, we will highlight some of the key legislation and how it will impact businesses in the state. First up: the enactment of mandatory paid sick leave in the state. Joining a small but growing number of jurisdictions—including cities such as Portland, Newark, Passaic, New York City, San Francisco, and Seattle, as well as the state of Connecticut and the District of Columbia—California now mandates that employers provide three paid sick days per year for workers beginning July 1, 2015. The Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act added eight new sections to the state Labor Code, amending a ninth, and includes notice and recordkeeping requirements as well as penalties for noncompliance. 

Detailed discussion 

Just before the legislative session ended last year, the Assembly voted 50 to 20 and the Senate approved by a 22-8 vote the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act

Expected to cover an estimated 6.5 million workers in the state, the bill takes effect July 1. Below are some of the highlights employers need to know:

  • Who is covered: The act applies to employees who have worked in the state for at least 30 days in a calendar year and allows workers to accrue one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked—regardless of whether they are full—or part-time employees. Accrued sick days may be used beginning on an employee’s ninetieth day of employment.
  • Who is exempt: Four categories of employees are exempt from the law: (1) those covered by collective bargaining agreements if the agreement meets certain requirements (such as providing paid leave or paid sick days); (2) certain construction workers; (3) providers of in-home supportive services; and (4) employees of an air carrier covered by the Railway Labor Act.
  • Scope of leave: Leave can be used for an employee’s own health conditions, or those of a family member, as well as if the employee is a victim of stalking, sexual assault, or domestic violence. Family members are defined to include a spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, and sibling—a broader definition than the California Family Rights Act, which does not include grandparents, grandchildren, or siblings.
  • Requesting and designating leave: A request for leave may be oral or written. The law provides that employees may determine how much paid sick leave is necessary, although employers may set a reasonable minimum increment for use, not to exceed two hours.
  • Cap on accrual, unused days: Employers are not required to pay out accrued, unused sick leave at the time of termination. They may also limit an employee’s use of paid sick days to 24 hours or three days in each year of employment and cap total accrual of paid sick days at six 8-hour workdays or 48 hours. Accrued but unused sick days must carry over into the following year, albeit subject to the 48-hour limit.
  • Retaliation: If an employer denies workers the use of sick days or takes other adverse action within 30 days of an employee exercising his or her rights, the law creates a presumption of retaliation.
  • Notice: The law includes various administrative requirements for employers, such as written notice to employees of the amount of accrued sick leave on either the employee’s itemized wage statement or in a separate writing, posting information about the act in a conspicuous location, and recordkeeping by documenting hours worked and paid sick days accrued over a three-year period.
  • Enforcement: The California Labor Commissioner has the power to enforce the act, with the Attorney General also authorized to recover civil penalties, attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest against offending employers. The potential for a Private Attorney General Act lawsuit also looms over employers’ heads. 

To read the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act, click here.