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California’s Paid Sick Leave Law

California’s paid sick leave law, which went into effect on July 1, 2015, allows employees to take time off from work to address their health or a family member’s illness without losing a paycheck.

The paid sick leave law in California helps promote a healthy workforce while benefiting small employers’ bottom lines through reduced employee turnover and increased productivity. Additionally, it helps employers take care of their employees in order to retain a loyal and healthy workforce and to attract top talent.

This document is intended to answer any questions small employers might have about California’s paid sick leave law and its effects on small business owners and their workers. 

What is California’s Paid sick Leave law?

  • The state’s paid sick leave law was established by the Healthy Workplace Families Act of 2014, and provides that any employee who works in California for 30 or more days within a year from the beginning of employment, is entitled to paid sick leave. Employees, including part-time and temporary employees, earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Accrual begins on the first day of employment.

Which employers are covered by the law?

  • The new paid sick leave law applies to virtually all California employers, regardless of size. 

How does paid sick leave work?

  • An employee who works in California for 30 or more days within a year from the beginning of employment is entitled to accrue paid sick leave.
  • Employees, including part-time and temporary employees, earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Sick time is paid at the employee’s current rate of pay.
  • Unused, accrued paid sick leave must be carried over to the following year and may be capped at 48 hours, based on the employer’s policy.
  • Employers are not required to pay out accrued, unused paid sick days at the time of termination, resignation or retirement.
  • If an employee is re-hired within one year, previously accrued and unused paid sick days shall be reinstated. 

What are an employer’s obligations under the paid sick leave law?

The Department of Industrial Relations has outlined steps for employers to follow to ensure successful compliance:

  • Display poster on paid sick leave where employees can read it easily.
  • Provide written notice to employees at the time of hire with paid sick leave information.
  • Provide for accrual of one hour of sick leave for 30 hours of work for each eligible employee to use.
  • Allow eligible employees to use accrued paid sick leave upon request or notification.
  • Show how many hours of sick leave an employee has available. This must be on a pay stub or a document issued the same day as a paycheck.
  • Keep records showing how many hours have been earned and used for three years.

What if a business already offers paid leave to its employees?

  • As long as an employer has a paid leave policy or paid time off policy (PTO) that meets the law’s leave time requirements, and allows that time to be used for the same purposes, the employer is not required to provide any additional leave.
  • The law establishes a minimum requirement, but an employer can provide sick leave through its own plan or establish different plans for different categories of workers. However, each plan must satisfy the accrual, carryover and use requirements of the law.  
  • If an employer provides a policy that exceeds the law’s minimum requirements, including providing a specific cap, the policy must be clear as to the additional terms that apply to that business’s employees.
  • An employer is in compliance with the paid sick leave law as long as the business provides at least 24 hours per year of paid leave that can be used for healthcare and meets other requirements in the law. 

What effects does paid sick leave have on small businesses?

  • Paid sick leave will help promote a healthy workforce that doesn't feel obligated to go to work when they're sick and risk infecting others, which leads to increased productivity and lower employee turnover.
  • Paid sick leave allows small employers to take care of their workers, ensure they are happy and healthy, and at the same time protect their bottom lines. Many small employers believe it makes good business sense to take care of employees in order to retain a loyal and healthy workforce and to attract top talent.
  • Additionally, the law will level the playing field by making paid sick leave a universal practice, while also ensuring enough flexibility for employers already offering paid leave or PTO. It will have no effect on small businesses already providing basic paid leave policies. 

What are business owners are saying about the paid sick leave law?

  • Sharon Ramirez, owner of Lehman’s Manufacturing in Fresno, California, says, “The paid sick leave law has been positive for our company. It definitely improved morale for my employees to know they have that safety net for themselves and their families. Almost everyone has used at least one day for personal health or to care for a family member, and several have used an hour or two for medical appointments. I think in the long run we are going to have healthier and happier employees, which is always a plus for any company.” 

    What are employee eligibility requirements for using paid sick leave?

    • An employee may use accrued paid sick leave beginning on the 90th day of employment.
    • An employee may request paid sick leave in writing or verbally. An employee cannot be required to find a replacement as a condition of using paid sick leave.
    • An employee can take paid leave for the employee’s own or a family member’s diagnosis, care or treatment of an existing health condition or preventive care or for specified purposes for an employee who is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

    Where can I get additional information about California’s paid sick leave law?