Whether pumping gas, helping people pump iron or selling pumps, many California workers will have a new benefit starting this week – the ability to accrue paid time off for when they are sick. Those who work for large companies typically take it for granted that someone running a fever or dealing with a nasty cold can take time off without a decrease in their paycheck. The reality is, however, that getting paid at all when sick is not common for approximately 40 percent of workers, typically in small businesses, retail establishments and restaurants – until now, if they are in California.
Nearly all workers in the state will earn a minimum of one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, whether part-time or full-time starting July 1, 2015, under legislation signed into law by California Gov. Jerry Brown last September. The measure extends paid time off for being sick, or caring for a sick family member, to 65 million people in California who did not have the benefit before.
There are some limitations to be aware of: Workers begin accruing the time off right away but may not be able take it until they have completed a 90-day probationary period (employers can elect to have a shorter period than the 90 days). An employer can cap the number of hours earned per year at 24 hours, but they can also choose to allow employees to earn more time based on their human resources policies.
So, whom does the new law not cover? Home health care workers are exempt. In addition, people covered by a collective bargaining agreement are subject to whatever time-off provisions are in that agreement. Finally, those who have other compensated time off that is at least equivalent to, or better than, the new law’s requirements. That would include any paid time-off plan a company wants to establish that is more liberal than three days per year or one hour earned for each 30 worked up to 24 hours.
An employer who already has a means for employees to accrue paid time off can fold the new sick leave time into that bank for simplicity sake. However, a drawback for employers is that many paid time off banks set up in lieu of vacation time are required to be paid to an employee upon termination or resignation. That would then include the sick time, which otherwise does not have to be paid out.
If an employee calls in sick, an employer cannot ask about the illness. They also cannot request proof. This is true in large companies and schools, where a doctor’s note is typically needed after more than three days.
What about seasonal workers at amusement parks or outdoor concert venues that only operate in the summer? Those workers accrue sick leave, but may not work pass the 90-day probationary period during the summer. If they return to the same employer within 12 months, i.e. the next year, the time earned the previous year is still theirs.
For example, if someone works at a beachfront food stand for 80 days one summer and earns three days’ sick leave, he or she may not be able to use it this first year if the employer requires the probationary period. However, if the worker returns to the job the following summer, there would only be 10 more days in the probationary period the second year before he or she could use the sick time accrued the prior year.
Many employers and employer groups objected to the law. However, with more workers in California now able to get sick pay, it is comforting to know someone serving food in a restaurant will be less tempted to come to work sick because they could not afford time off.
Written and edited by Dyanne Weiss
California Department of Industrial Relations: Frequently Asked Questions About California’s New Paid Sick Leave Law
Sacramento Business Journal: Six things to know about the paid sick-leave law
Los Angeles Times: Gov. Jerry Brown signs bill to require paid sick leave