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Paid Covid Leave Granted to California Workers Through September

Feb. 9, 2022, 7:18 PM

California employers starting Feb. 19 must provide up to two weeks of paid Covid-19 leave under legislation Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Wednesday.

The labor-backed bill (S.B. 114) restores expired paid-leave requirements for companies with more than 25 employees. Employers can require documentation from workers before paying the leave, which must be made immediately available on the employees’ request.

“This is what it looks like when everyone works together and rows in the same direction,” Newsom (D) said at a signing ceremony at a restaurant in Alameda County.

The bill passed the state Assembly 55–7 on Feb. 7, and immediately was concurred in the Senate, 30–7.

Workers can receive 40 hours of pay for quarantining or isolating, plus whatever their employer offers, under the law, which runs through Sept. 30. Part-time workers’ leave would be prorated based on their hours.

Another 40 hours of paid leave is available to workers if they or a family member test positive for the virus. Workers can be paid up to 24 hours to get and recover from Covid-19 vaccine side effects.

California as of now provides 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.

Newsom also signed several other budget-related bills that provide $6.1 billion in economic relief, including $500 million in tax credits for restaurants, California Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Jennifer Barrera told reporters.

If the relief already available isn’t enough to help small businesses, Newsom said, “we’re going to do more.”

Retroactivity Concerns

The new paid leave law is retroactive to Jan. 1. The previous law requiring coverage expired Sept. 30, 2021.

Coby Marie Turner, a partner with Seyfarth Shaw LLP in Sacramento, Calif., advises employers to use caution if asking workers to supply verification of a positive test taken at home weeks ago.

“There’s going to be some measure of abuse especially with the retroactive pay and there’s not a whole lot the employer can do about it, especially with home tests. Employers are going to have to tread lightly” to ensure their actions don’t turn into a retaliation claim, Turner said.

“If an employer does not have a credible reason to suspect abuse, then they shouldn’t be making employees jump through hoops,” she said.

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: Jay-Anne B. Casuga at jcasuga@bloomberglaw.com; Tina May at tmay@bloomberglaw.com