BREAKING NEWS: California Legislature Passes Mandatory Paid Sick Leave Bill

by Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C.
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On Saturday, August 30, 2014, in the early morning hours and amid controversy among labor supporters, the California legislature passed a bill that provides workers with three paid sick days per year. Governor Brown enthusiastically endorsed the law’s passage and is expected to sign it very shortly. Assuming the governor signs the legislation, it will take effect on July 1, 2015.

California employers need to know the following about the legislation:

  1. The bill would enact a new law entitled the “Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014” and would amend California Labor Code 2810.5.
  2. Beginning July 1, 2015, California employees will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.
  3. Employees can begin using their paid sick days on the 90th day of their employment for their own health condition, a family member’s health condition, and if the employee is a victim of domestic assault, sexual violence, and/or stalking.
  4. The legislation defines “family member” to include spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, and sibling. Because grandparent, grandchild, and siblings are not family members under the California Family Rights Act, the legislation expands the types of family members for which an employee can take protected leave.
  5. Employers can limit an employee’s use of paid sick days to 24 hours or 3 days in each year of employment.
  6. Employers are not required to pay out accrued unused sick leave at time of termination.
  7. Employers cannot discriminate or retaliate against employees who request and/or use paid sick days. An employer that takes an adverse employment action against an employee who uses or requests leave is presumed to have retaliated against the employee.
  8. The bill imposes posting, notice, and record-keeping obligations on employers.
  9. The bill assigns enforcement authority to the California Labor Commissioner.
  10. Employers that violate the law will face administrative fines. The bill also authorizes the Labor Commissioner or the Attorney General to recover civil penalties, attorneys’ fees, costs, and interest against violating employers, as well as to reinstate employees.
  11. The bill exempts employees covered by collective bargaining agreements if those agreements meet certain requirements, including providing for paid leave and binding arbitration.

According to the bill’s authors, paid sick leave is needed because many California workers, particularly low-income workers, have an insufficient amount of or no paid sick days. The bill’s authors claim that “[p]aid sick days will have an enormously positive impact on the public health of Californians by allowing sick workers paid time off to care for themselves when ill, thus lessening their recovery time and reducing the likelihood of spreading illness to other members of the workforce.”

Assembly Bill 1522 passed the state Senate with a 22-to-8 vote late in the day on Friday, August 29, and it passed the Assembly early Saturday morning with a 52-to-25 vote. After a number of amendments to the bill, two unions that formerly backed the bill—the Service Employees International Union and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees—withdrew their support. However, Governor Jerry Brown publicly supported the bill stating, “Tonight, the Legislature took historic action to help hardworking Californians. This bill guarantees that millions of workers – from Eureka to San Diego – won’t lose their jobs or pay just because they get sick.” The governor’s statement sends a strong signal to California employers regarding the likelihood that the measure will become law.

In California, San Francisco’s paid sick leave ordinance mandates that employers provide covered employees with paid sick leave of up to 72 hours annually, at an accrual rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. The City of San Diego recently passed its own paid sick leave law that will take effect on April 1, 2015 and requires that employers provide covered employees with paid sick leave of up to 40 hours per year, at an accrual rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. A number of other cities across the United States, including Jersey City, New Jersey, Newark, New Jersey, and Eugene, Oregon, have passed similar paid sick leave laws, and employers should expect the trend to continue. Presently, Connecticut is the only state that mandates paid sick leave throughout the state.

Because many California employers already provide at least three days of paid time off that employees can use for sick leave for themselves and others, the legislation will impose administrative burdens on those employers without providing their employees with any additional days off. Employers will have to comply with notice and record-keeping burdens and integrate the law with their own paid time off policies, Labor Code section 233 (“kin care”), family medical leave, and all the other protected leaves that California provides employees.

We will keep you apprised of any updates to the paid sick leave bill and will inform you of the law’s details in the event that it is signed by the governor.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. | Attorney Advertising

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