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California's New Sick Leave Policy

As of January 1, 2015, new paid sick leave law became in effect in California. However, the right to accrue and take sick leave under this law does not begin until July 1, 2015.

Eligibility

Under the new law, employees who work 30 days or more during the calendar year are eligible to accrue sick leave. However, they must satisfy a 90 day probationary period before any of the accrued sick leave may be used. This law applies to employers regardless of size, with only a few enumerated exceptions. It also applies to employees who are only part-time, per diem, and temporary.

Exceptions

There are few employees who are exempt from accruing sick leave under the new law. These exceptions include home care workers, employees covered by collective bargaining agreements, and airline flight crews.

Accrual and Carryover

Employees will earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. That works out to a little more than eight days a year for someone who works 40 hours a week. But employers can limit the amount of paid sick leave an employee can take in one year to 24 hours. This equates to three days for those who work 8 hours a day. Employers may also limit an employee's total carry over accrual to 48 hours. The reason the law allows an employee to accrue more than they can use, is so they have 24 hours for use at the start of the next year. It is also relevant that the law calculates the earned sick leave in the form of "hours" versus "days." An employee who works 6 hour shifts would be entitled to a minimum of 4 days off in order to total 24 hours.

Employers may also lend paid sick days to an employee before they are accrued and, where an employer provides the full amount of sick leave at the beginning of each year, no accrual carryover is required.

Vacation Time

Vacation time is treated differently than sick time. For example, employers are not required to reimburse employees for unpaid sick leave upon their termination. Some employers lump it all together and call it "paid time off." Paid time off policies are permissible so long as they meet the minimum requirements of the new law.

For employers that are not accustomed to tracking employees' time off, the new law requires that employers separately track sick leave accrual and use. They must also show, on the employee's pay stub or a document issued the same day as their paycheck, how many days of sick leave the employee has available.

Sick Leave Use

Sick leave may be used by employees for preventive care or care of an existing health condition for themselves or care of a family member. Family members include the employee’s parent, child, spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild, and sibling. Preventive care could include annual physicals or flu shots. For partial days, employers can require the employee to take at least two hours of leave, but otherwise the determination of how much time is needed is left to the employee.

Remedies

An employer who fails to comply with California's new sick leave law could face steep penalties. If paid sick days are withheld, the employee is entitled to the dollar amount equivalent of paid sick days withheld from the employee multiplied by three, or $250, whichever is greater, but not to exceed an aggregate penalty of $4,000. The employer could also be liable for $50 a day for other violations, such as not posting notice or failing to provide employees with their total accrued sick leave. Notably, the $50 fine can be assessed for each employee or other person whose rights were violated, for each day the violation continues. The law places no maximum aggregate on this $50 per person, per day sum.

Employees need to be aware of this change in the law and not hesitate to contact an attorney after July 1, 2015 to enforce their rights.

Originally published:On CNN's iReport, "California's New Sick Leave Policy" on April 16, 2015.

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