Paid Sick Leave Concerns California Employers

News Updates


Even as the president called for a national paid-sick-leave law in the week leading up to the 2015 State of the Union address and during the speech, employers in California are struggling to comply with a state mandate for paid leave that takes effect July 1, 2015.

Many employers already have some type of paid-sick-leave plan, but it typically covers only full-time employees. Under the new state law, part-time employees will be paid sick leave as well, which blurs the line between part time and full time, remarked Jennifer Brown Shaw, an attorney with Shaw Valenza in Sacramento, Calif.

And some employers didn’t have a sick leave policy before, so the new requirement will increase costs for them, she observed.

Under California’s law, accrual of sick leave starts the first day of work if hired after July 1, which differs from the sick-leave policies many employers already have in place. Typically, sick leave doesn’t accrue until the 90th day of work. So, employers are left with the choice of whether they should maintain their current sick-leave policy or throw it out for one that resembles the state leave law, Shaw remarked.

There are notice requirements if employers keep their own policy. “The state law providing for paid sick leave creates minimum standards for paid sick leave,” said the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement on its website. “Employers may use their existing policies so long as the specific policy complies with the minimum requirements of the law. Where the employer provides additional terms (e.g., creates caps on maximum uses or accruals above the minimums), they must inform employees of those additional terms. The revised “notice to employee” form has a check box to inform employees of an employer’s own policy that meets or exceeds the requirements of the new law.”

An employee qualifies for paid sick leave under the state law by working for an employer for at least 30 days within a year in California and satisfying a 90-day employment period before an employee can take any sick leave, the division states—different from the accrual provision.

Coordination Challenges

Coordination of the California sick-leave law with other state sick-leave provisions will be a challenge as well, Shaw added. For example, California’s “kin care” law requires that employers let employees use half of their sick leave to care for family when sick leave is provided. So, employers that are new to providing sick leave will have to comply with this requirement.

An even greater challenge will be coordinating the paid-sick-leave law with local ordinances, according to Shaw.

“For employees subject to local sick-leave ordinances, the employer will have to comply with both the local and California laws, which may differ in some respects,” the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement noted on its website. “For each provision or benefit, the employer will have to provide whichever is more generous to the employee.” The bill supported by the president similarly would not preempt local ordinances or state laws.

How will compliance with the California paid- sick-leave law be coordinated with compliance with localities’ paid-sick-leave laws? It remains to be seen, but Shaw expects difficulties. San Francisco’s ordinance has a provision permitting time off to care for a designated person, who may be anyone, even just a neighbor, she observed. Oakland, Calif., has its own sick-leave law as well.

Employers are “in a real pickle trying to figure out” how to comply with all of these laws, and an added layer at the federal level would just make things worse, Shaw said. “Employers are flummoxed about what they should do. Frankly, it’s just a big mess.”

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him @SHRMlegaleditor.

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