California’s labor commissioner has levied fines totaling almost $448,000 against three El Super grocery stores for their failure to comply with California’s COVID-19 paid sick leave policy for 95 workers affected by the coronavirus.

The state labor commissioner’s office launched an investigation in September 2020 after receiving complaints from El Super employees and a referral from the labor union that represents the workers. The complaints allege that the grocery stores told sick workers who exhibited COVID-19 symptoms to report to work while awaiting their test results. Other workers who were in quarantine were told to apply for unemployment benefits, and some workers failed to receive compensation for their COVID-19-related leave.

Under California law, employees affected by COVID-19 are guaranteed up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave. California law also gives workers who test positive for or are exposed to COVID-19 paid sick time for all of 2020. In April 2020, Gov. Newsom issued an executive order expanding the number of paid sick days for state food sector workers.

On July 27, 2021, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office fined three El Super grocery stores in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties a total of nearly $448,000 as follows: $318,200 for delaying or denying payment of supplemental paid sick leave; almost $115,000 for not providing leave under the executive order for food-sector workers; and approximately $15,000 for not complying with California’s 2021 supplemental paid sick leave law for companies with 26 or more employees.

“Supplemental paid sick leave is intended to protect workers from being forced to choose between their health and providing for their families,” Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower said in a statement. “These violations expose workers, their families and El Super’s customers to unnecessary health risks.”

A spokesperson for El Super disputed the labor commission’s findings, saying that the citations were “without merit” and that the grocery chain planned to defend its compliance record.