Workers Can Now Afford to Get Sick – California’s Paid Sick Leave Law Takes Effect

Workers Can Now Afford to Get Sick – California’s Paid Sick Leave Law Takes Effect

By S.E. Williams, Staff Writer

california_thermometerShe lost her job during the recession and after searching for over two years, V. Beckford, single mother of three, secured full time employment—it was three months before she breathed freely again.

Her pay was minimal but certainly enough to get by. “It felt good not to worry so much about money,” she said, “I was able to pay my bills and feed my children.” Although Beckford certainly longed for more in life, she was relieved financial pressure was off for now.

It was going well for Beckford until she awakened one night in terrible pain. A visit to the emergency resulted in a diagnosis of kidney stones. The doctor assured her the stones were in position to pass in a day or two, prescribed antibiotics, pain medication and sent home to rest.

However, rest was not an option for Beckford. The next morning she took her medication, reported to work and hoped the pain would remain blunted. “I prayed I would make it through the day without complications,” she shared, “I couldn’t afford to take off.”

Beckford wanted to follow the doctor’s orders to—‘stay home and rest’ but without sick pay it was not an option—she could not afford it.

Beckford’s choice was the same choice made by millions of mothers and fathers in America daily—at least 40 million citizens in this country are not eligible for even a single hour of sick pay; however, all of that is about to change for nearly 6.5 million California workers.

With the passage of the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, California followed precedent-setting Connecticut and became the nation’s second state to mandate paid sick leave.

In acknowledgement of the historic legislation, California Governor Jerry Brown stated, “Whether you’re a dishwasher in San Diego or a store clerk in Oakland, this bill frees you of having to choose between your family’s health and your job.” Calling the bill historic he added, “This bill guarantees that millions of workers, from Eureka to San Diego, won’t lose their jobs or pay just because they get sick.”

Although the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (Paid Sick Leave Law) became law January 1st, an employee’s right to accrue and/or take sick leave becomes effective July 1st.

Under the new law almost all employers, regardless of size, are covered. There is no exception for small businesses or small employers or employers with less than a particular number of employees. The very few exceptions to the law include employees who are subject to some collective bargaining agreements; in-home supportive services providers; and, certain employees of air carriers.

An employee who works at least 30 days within a year in California, including part-time, per diem, and temporary employees are covered by this new law. Accrual of paid sick leave will begin on July 1, 2015 or the first day of employment, whichever is later.

According to the law, once an employee works 30 days, an employer is required to provide him/her with at least one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. However, an employer may limit the use of paid sick leave in a year to 24 hours, or three days in each year of employment.

An employer must allow accrued paid sick leave to roll over to the next year. However, no accrual or carry-over is required if an employer provides the full amount of sick leave at the beginning of each year, allowing the employee to take sick leave before he or she would have otherwise accrued it. An employer is also not required to allow an employee to accrue a total of paid sick leave in excess of 48 hours, or six days.

An employee is entitled to take paid sick leave after accruing enough paid sick leave time and/or beginning on the 90th day of employment. An employee may request paid sick days in writing or verbally in alignment with their company’s policy.

An employee can take paid leave for his or her own or a family member for the diagnosis, care or treatment of an existing health condition or preventive care. Paid sick leave can also be taken for specified purposes by an employee who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

When an employee uses sick leave he or she is entitled to compensation at his or her standard hourly rate. For employees who earn commissions, those commission payments must be factored into their sick leave payment.

It is also important to understand that employers are not required to pay out un-used sick leave upon termination. The United States, unlike most developed countries in the world, does not have a federal law that guarantees paid sick leave for its workers. Sadly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics nearly four out of every ten workers in America are not covered by a sick leave plan. However, beyond California there is other good news on this issue.

President Barack Obama has proposed federal legislation to require paid sick leave nationally even as other states are considering legislation similar to the paid sick leave laws passed in Connecticut and California. In addition, more and more corporations are offering paid sick leave to their employees regardless of legislative mandates.

California’s paid sick leave law was a major victory for this movement; however, it came at a price. During the final hours of negotiations an amendment was added that restricted low-waged home care workers from access to the law. Advocates are hopeful this can be remedied in the future.

For more information on the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (Paid Sick Leave) visit the California Department of Industrial Relations website at Sick Leave.htm.


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