Here’s how California’s new COVID-19 sickness benefits work
Governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed legislation to restore supplemental sick leave benefits for most California workers, providing up to two weeks of paid time off for illnesses and absences related to COVID-19.
Standing on a restaurant patio in Oakland, Newsom applauded business advocates, unions and lawmakers who came together to negotiate the legislation. The new policy includes many provisions of a law that expired in September along with new rules negotiated by the business community.
“I’m proud of their hard work,” Newsom said. “We wouldn’t be here without them and I’m honored to be able to sign these pieces of legislation today.”
The sick leave policy allows all workers in businesses with 26 or more employees to take paid time off to recover from COVID-19, care for a sick family member, travel to an appointment you vaccination, recovering from a vaccination or caring for a child who cannot attend. school due to virus-related closures or quarantines.
Here’s everything you need to know about the law.
How many hours will full-time workers receive?
Assembly Bill 84 offers California workers at businesses with 26 or more employees up to 80 hours of additional COVID-19 paid sick leave. The law divides these 80 hours into two banks of 40 hours each.
Bank grants workers up to 40 hours of flexible paid time off to recover from COVID-19, care for a sick family member, travel to vaccination appointments, recover from a vaccinations or caring for a child who cannot attend school due to virus-related closures or quarantines. The bill states that an employer can limit workers to a maximum of 24 hours, or three working days, to attend each vaccination appointment and to pick up or care for someone with vaccine-related symptoms, unless the employee provides confirmation from a health care provider that more time is needed.
The other bank of 40 hours is more restrictive and can only be used to recover from COVID-19 or to care for a sick family member. Under this bank, employers are allowed to require workers to submit proof of their own or a family member’s positive COVID-19 test in order to qualify.
Katherine Wutchiett, staff attorney at the San Francisco nonprofit Labor Legal Aid, said it’s important workers know they can use both 40-hour banks in any order they want. and that they don’t need to deplete one bank before moving on to the other.
The two separate time banks make the new program seem more complicated than the 2021 law, she said.
“So it will be extremely important that the state and public health and those who care about public health really invest in communicating this information about how people can access these two periods of leave to get 80 hours” , Wutchiett said.
It seems confusing. How can a worker exhaust the 80 hours?
Here is an example. Let’s call the 40 hours of flexible leave “Bank A” and the other 40 hours for which an employer might require proof of a positive test “Bank B”.
A full-time worker tested positive for COVID-19 in March. The worker takes three days, or 24 hours, off to recuperate and submits a positive test to their employer, allowing them to take that sick leave from Bank B.
A few weeks later, the worker’s daughter has to go to a vaccination appointment. The worker uses a day, or eight hours, of bank A to take the child to the appointment and another eight hours the next day, also from bank A, to take care of the child, who wakes up with flu-like symptoms.
In June, the worker’s father catches COVID-19. Now the worker is using his last two days of bank B to care for his relative. The employer may require the worker to provide a positive test from the father.
After two days, the worker’s father is still very ill. The worker has three days, or 24 hours, of bank A to care for their relative.
How does an employee who works less than 40 hours per week calculate weekly sick leave?
Workers who have a normal weekly schedule of less than 40 hours are entitled to the total number of hours they are usually expected to work in a week for each of the two banks of COVID-19 leave.
The legislation states that an employee whose weekly hours vary would receive “seven times the average number of hours the covered employee worked each day for the employer during the six months preceding the date the covered employee taken additional COVID-19 paid sick leave” for each of the two banks. If the employee has worked for the company for more than seven days but less than six months, the calculation of flexible leave would be based on their entire period of employment.
If the employee has only worked for the company for a week or less, they would be entitled to the total number of hours worked for each bank of leave.
Are there limits to the amount of sick leave pay a worker can receive?
The law states that employees will be paid at a regular rate of pay not to exceed $511 per day or $5,110 in total.
When does COVID-19 sick leave become available to workers?
The law takes effect 10 days after Newsom signed the legislation on Wednesday. It will apply retroactively to January 1 and expire on September 30.
If a worker has already caught COVID-19 this year and has taken leave, how does the leave apply retroactively?
Workers who took COVID-19-related leave this year before the law was signed should discuss with their employer how they want to classify that leave.
If employees were not receiving any compensation for COVID-related leave, they would need to provide a written or oral request to receive retroactive payment.
If the worker was being compensated for the prior leave, they should also request to be credited for any leave hours used for specific COVID-related purposes.
Under the law, an employer is allowed to require an employee to provide proof of a positive test if they wish to retroactively take COVID-19 leave under the less flexible bank of 40 hours that can only be used to recuperate or care for a family member who is recovering from the virus.
How do workers keep track of the leave they have taken?
Employees are required by law to include the amount of additional paid sick leave related to COVID-19 used on the employee’s detailed pay statement or in a separate writing on payday. Workers should expect this total to appear on their pay stubs separately from standard paid sick days beginning with the next full pay period after the law takes effect.
What about employees of companies with less than 26 employees?
Under the new law, these workers are not eligible for the additional COVID-19 paid sick leave. Employees of these companies would continue to receive three days of paid sick leave to recover from any illness under current law.
Writer Hannah Wiley contributed to this report.