Why it matters: Employers in California must now provide three paid sick days per year for workers, pursuant to a new law going into effect on July 1, 2015. The controversial legislation, also referred to as the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act – expected to cover an estimated 6.5 million workers in the state and impact almost all employers – was passed by the state Senate 22 to 8 and in the Assembly by a 50-to-20 vote just before the legislative session ended. While supporters argued that the bill will help with productivity and cut down on healthcare costs, opponents such as the California Chamber of Commerce dubbed it a “job killer.” Employers decried the bill’s additional burdens as well as the potential for penalties and litigation. By enacting the law, California joins a small but growing number of jurisdictions establishing paid sick leave, 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. Massachusetts residents are voting on the issue this November.

Detailed Discussion

On September 10, Gov. Jerry Brown signed the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act into law. Here is a summary of some of its key provisions:

  • Who is covered: The Act applies to employees that 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 90th 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 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, and 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. 

Employers are not required to pay out accrued, unused sick leave at the time of termination and may 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.

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 posting, notice, and recordkeeping by documenting hours worked and paid sick days accrued over a three-year period.

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.