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Covid-19 Paid Leave Boost for California Workers Goes to Newsom

Feb. 7, 2022, 11:45 PM

California employers would have to provide up to 80 hours of paid Covid-19 leave under legislation passed Monday that now heads to Gov. Gavin Newsom.

The temporary legislation that labor backs but business opposes restores paid-leave requirements for companies with more than 25 employees. The previous law requiring coverage expired Sept. 30, 2021.

The measure would give workers 40 hours’ pay for quarantine or isolation in addition to whatever their employer provides. Part-time workers would get leave based on hours worked and their schedule. Employees could get an additional 40 hours of paid leave if the worker or another family member tests positive after using the first 40 hours.

Covid-19 sick leave “is the least we can do” for workers who kept the economy going, Assemblymember Phil Ting (D), Assembly Budget Committee chair, said during floor debate.

Lawmakers couldn’t get financial relief for small businesses into this bill but “would love to see that in the June budget proposal because I think it’s absolutely critical,” with the lack of federal aid, “that state aid work to help those small businesses,” Ting said.

The state Assembly voted 55-7 to pass the bill (S.B. 114) that immediately went to the Senate, which voted 30-7 to send the bill the Newsom (D). The legislation mirrors a bill (A.B. 84) in the Senate. The legislation that passes both houses first is the one sent to the governor, who is expected to sign it.

Newsom proposed a $2.7 billion Covid-19 emergency response package in his Jan. 10 fiscal 2022–23 budget blueprint.

Support for Proposal

The bill also would allow workers 24 hours of paid leave to receive and recover from vaccine side effects. Employers can require workers, if they test positive, to submit to another test on or after the fifth day following the first positive test and to provide documentation of those results.

“We are asking these individual enterprises to shoulder this bill,” when the state has an estimated $30 billion to $45 billion surplus for the next fiscal year, said Sen. Andreas Borgeas (R).

“We have the resources. It is a matter of public policy and a matter of public safety,” Borgeas said in urging a vote against the bill, “not because of what it does but because the funding source is improperly placed.”

Amendments removed some business opposition. California as of now has no funding for small- and medium-sized employers that must pay for the leave. Employers with 500 or fewer workers have no federal tax credits to help defray costs related to sick leave.

“Employers will take on an additional burden to provide leave, but they are doing so to protect the broader public,” Denise Davis, California Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman, said in an email. “Given amendments taken to address several of our concerns, the proposal will protect small employers, is limited in duration, allows employers to require a positive test from employees to prevent any abuse, and eliminates some administrative challenges.”

Labor praised the legislation’s passage.

“Common sense, worker safety, and public health all won today, thanks to SEIU members and all of California’s workers who stood up and spoke out for the public good,” Bob Schoonover, president of Service Employees International Union California and executive director of SEIU Local 721, said in a statement. “Supplemental paid sick leave will help stop the spread of disease and keep ourselves, our families, and our communities safe.”

The leave law would take effect 10 days after enactment, and retroactively apply to Jan. 1, 2022. It would run until Sept. 30, 2022.

Employer, Worker Protections

Among the provisions, according to a legislative analysis:

  • Employee determines how many hours of supplemental paid sick leave to use, up to the total number of hours provided. Employers must make the supplemental leave available for immediate use upon request.
  • For each vaccination or vaccine booster, an employer may limit the total supplemental paid sick leave for symptoms to three days or 24 hours unless a health-care provider verifies that the worker or family member continues to experience symptoms related to a vaccine or booster.
  • Leave for exempt employees is calculated in the same manner as the employer calculates wages for other forms of paid leave time.
  • Employees will be paid based on regular rate of pay under law or collective bargaining agreement. Not to exceed $511 per day or $5,110 in total unless federal legislation is enacted to increase these amounts.
  • Employer can’t require worker use other paid leave or unpaid leave before using supplemental paid sick leave or in lieu of such leave.

To contact the reporter on this story: Joyce E. Cutler in San Francisco at jcutler@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Martha Mueller Neff at mmuellerneff@bloomberglaw.com; Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com