Tuesday, July 11, 2023

CA Legislature Mulls Expanding Paid Sick Leave

Posted By on Tue, Jul 11, 2023 at 12:43 PM

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck in 2020, California’s three days of paid sick leave for full-time workers was not enough to cover quarantines or vaccine side effects. Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law requiring companies to offer as much as 80 hours of supplemental sick leave for employees.

The temporary measure was restored in early 2022 due to the Omicron surge, but expired at the end of the year.

Now, advocates are urging state lawmakers to increase paid sick leave and expand who can receive it to promote public health and equity.

It’s one of a series of bills before the Legislature that supporters say would improve work-life balance for Californians. Opponents, however, say the bills are an unreasonable burden to put on small businesses.

Newsom wouldn’t say Monday whether he would sign the sick leave bill if it’s passed. He did say that he broadly supports doing more for families, but also recognizes the cost.

“We have a parents’ agenda, and paid sick leave is certainly part of that,” he said after a bill signing event. “We look forward to doing more in the future. We just have to sort of balance those priorities against others in the short term.”

Senate Bill 616 would raise the number of paid sick days that can be used by employees from three to seven days per year and expand how sick days are accrued and used. Under existing law, employees can accrue as many as seven days per year. This bill would increase the total to 14 days a year, and allow seven sick days to roll over to the next year, up from three days.

The bill, approved by the state Senate on a 27-9 vote and by an Assembly committee, is before the Assembly appropriations committee. Since being introduced, about 150 organizations have come out in support of the measure, while more than 60 groups oppose it.

According to the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, “paid sick leave guarantees are seen by many public health experts as one of the strongest tools in stopping the spread of infectious diseases,” while the Economic Policy Institute finds that low-wage workers are particularly susceptible to having limited paid sick leave.

“COVID-19 presents a perfect example of why expanding paid sick leave is not simply good public policy, but a dire necessity,” bill author Sen. Lena Gonzalez, a Long Beach Democrat, said in a statement included in the bill analysis. She added that “studies have found that, for those without earned sick days, missing three and a half days of work equates to losing a family’s entire monthly grocery budget.”

In 2014, California became the second state in the nation to adopt a paid sick leave policy, but now provides less paid sick leave than 15 states and many of its own cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley.

The California Work & Family Coalition, a co-sponsor of the bill, argues that it is “a commonsense change…ensuring that California workers do not have to choose between their health and paying the bills.”

However, a coalition of organizations said in an opposition letter that many small businesses have not recovered from the pandemic and are now dealing with inflation.

The opposition coalition includes the California Chamber of Commerce, which has placed the bill on its 2023 “job killer” list because it “imposes new costs and leave requirements on employers of all sizes.”

The Chamber supported another bill, which failed in committee, that would have increased paid sick leave from three to five days — instead of seven — and would have allowed employers to ask for documentation from workers. “The more than 100 percent expansion is something that really not all businesses can afford to do,” said Ben Golombek, the Chamber’s executive vice president for policy.

Jenya Cassidy, director of the Work & Family Coalition, says that depriving basic rights and dignity to workers should not be a strategy used by small businesses to grow.

“Your business grows when your workers can thrive, care for their families and care for themselves while keeping their jobs,” Cassidy said in an interview. “We just need to normalize people not working themselves to death.”

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan newsroom dedicated to explaining California policy and politics.
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