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More Paid Sick Leave – New Trend Sweeping California

California’s Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (California’s Sick Leave Law) took full effect statewide on July 1, 2015, requiring that most employees may use at least three days (24 hours) of paid sick leave per year, while the total cap on sick leave accrual cannot be less than six days (48 hours).  But various cities within California (such as Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Emeryville and Santa Monica) have gone further and require employers to offer even more paid sick leave than that required statewide. Employers with employees throughout California must be wary of this patchwork of laws and ordinances. This new trend of requiring employers to offer paid sick leave is picking up steam throughout California.

Los Angeles, CA

The Los Angeles City Council determined that California’s Sick Leave Law did not provide workers in the second-largest US city with enough paid time off, and voted to require employers in Los Angeles to provide more.  Effective July 1, 2016, most workers in Los Angeles will accrue and be able to use at least 48 hours of sick leave per year (equivalent to six days)—twice the mandatory minimum under California law. Businesses employing 25 or fewer workers will get an extra year to satisfy this new annual paid sick leave minimum.  Like the statewide law, Los Angeles employers will have discretion to provide the paid sick leave either all up front or at an accrual rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked up to the cap.  Employees can use their sick leave for a variety of reasons, including tending to an ill family member. Los Angeles also has a separate paid leave ordinance applying to hotel workers at hotels with more than 150 rooms.

Santa Monica, CA

Santa Monica’s sick leave ordinance, enacted in January 2016, allows employees to accrue up to 72 hours of sick leave, with mandatory accrual and carry-over requirements. The ordinance was amended in April 2016 and will not become effective until January 1, 2017. Like the handful of other cities in California, Santa Monica’s sick leave ordinance ultimately will provide employees with more sick leave than required by the recent statewide law. The accrual rate remains the same as California statewide law—1 hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Effective January 1, 2017, small businesses with 25 or fewer employees may cap accrual at no less than 32 hours of paid sick leave and larger businesses may cap the accrual at no less than 40 hours.  Effective January 1, 2018, the minimum cap on accrual will increase to 40 hours for a small employers and 72 hours for large employers.  However, because the statewide cap on accrual must be 48 hours, employers in Santa Monica must still satisfy that statewide accrual requirement (which large employers in Santa Monica will have to increase to 72 hours beginning January 1, 2018). An employer may prohibit use (as opposed to accrual) during the first 90 days of employment.

Oakland, CA

Oakland’s 2015 paid sick leave ordinance provides that employees who work at least two hours in Oakland per week must accrue at least 1 hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Small businesses (fewer than 10 employees) may cap accrual at 40 hours, but are still subject to the more generous statewide cap requirement of 48 hours.  Larger employers (more than 10 employees) may cap accrual at 72 hours. An employer may prohibit use (as opposed to accrual) during the first 90 days of employment. Like many of these laws and ordinances, if an employer has a paid time off (PTO) policy at least as generous as the sick leave ordinance, no additional sick leave is required. Consistent with similar ordinances, an employee may use such paid sick leave to care for a family member, such as a child.

San Francisco, CA

Ever the trendsetter, in 2007 San Francisco became one of the first cities to require employers to offer paid sick leave. Its ordinance requires most employers to provide sick leave to persons employed within the city and county of San Francisco.  Following 90 days of employment, employees must accrue paid sick leave at the rate of no less than 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The ordinance places a minimum cap on accrual based on the size of the employer of up to 72 hours (nine days) for employers with more than ten employees. Like other paid sick leave rules, San Francisco’s ordinance permits use of paid sick leave to care for family members, such as a child.

Emeryville, CA

Effective July 2015, most employees working in Emeryville accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers can cap accrual at 48 hours if the company has 55 or fewer employees working in Emeryville, or 72 hours if more than 55 employees in Emeryville.  Employers may not cap the number of accrued sick days that are used per year. Consistent with similar ordinances, the Emeryville ordinance permits use of paid sick leave to care for family members, such as a child. An employer may prohibit use (as opposed to accrual) during the first 90 days of employment.

What Does This Mean For Covered Employers?

California employers face an ever-changing patchwork of local ordinances that go beyond statewide requirements for sick leave benefits.  Employers should consult with legal counsel to get guidance on adjusting policies for local jurisdictions or developing an overall policy that complies with the variances in local laws and ordinances that may impact the employer’s overall benefit scheme. This issue is complicated further by employers with operations in multiple states, where the divergence of laws may create even more skewed benefits. Employers must create an organized and thought out plan to satisfy all of these local and statewide legal requirements.

© 2019 McDermott Will & Emery


About this Author

Chris Scheithauer Attorney McDermott Law FIrm

Chris C. Scheithauer represents clients on civil litigation matters, with a focus on class action employee benefit litigation and counseling under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), and other employment litigation and advice.

Chris serves as the Co-Chair of McDermott’s National ERISA Litigation Team.

Chris’ ERISA practice involves representing employers, plan fiduciaries and trustees in litigation matters concerning employee benefit plans. He regularly represents companies and their ERISA plans...