Paid Sick Days: A Benefit or Requirement?

Paid sick days have typically been thought of as a benefit that employers, by their own accord, give to their employees.  It is not new that California, especially, requires employers to pay employees for certain types of absences (see Required Employee Leave in California). However, now California state law and many local, city laws require that employees be paid for sick days.

Similar laws govern not only California, but seven other states, including: Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, New York, and Washington D.C.  The list is growing every day!  To see more specifics about how these laws play out in these various states, click here.

Now don’t freak out, although there are some exceptions and fine print to these laws, we’re here to help you navigate the fine print and make sure you have a compliant 2017!

California State Law

Paid sick leave in California comes from the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 (the “Act”).  The full text is available via this link, but, rather than confuse and bore you all, the important highlights are below:

  • The Act does not affect existing policies or plans for other paid time off, such as vacation days;
  • Employees, including part-time and temporary employees, will earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked (an employer may limit the amount of paid sick leave an employee can use in one year to 24 hours or three work days);
  • Accrued paid sick leave may be carried over to the next year, but it may be capped at 48 hours or six work days;
  • The Act will not apply to employees covered by qualifying collective bargaining agreements, In-Home Supportive Services providers, and certain employees of air carriers;
  • The Department of Industrial Relations (“DIR”) elaborates on how “grandfathered” paid time off (“PTO”) complies with the Act, as follows:
    • the existing policy or plan makes an amount of paid leave available that could be used for at least as many paid sick days as required under state law; and
    • that satisfies one of the following criteria:
      • the time off may be used under the same or more favorable conditions as specified under state law; or
      • that the plan contains more favorable conditions to employees than required under state law (e.g., provides more sick days or a more favorable accrual rate, etc.);
  • The Act also affects an employer’s “occurrence” or “point” system for employee absences:
    • if the employee has accrued sick days or time off, then an employee’s absence will not count as an “occurrence” or “point” on the employee’s record (so long as the day(s) of absence do not exceed the employee’s accrued days);
    • if, however, the employee does not have accrued sick days or time off, then an employee’s absence will count as an “occurrence” or “point” on the employee’s record.

More detail on the complexity of California law and any related Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) on the topic can be accessed via this link.  Still having trouble?  Fear not, we are here to help!

Municipality Policies

Certain municipalities in California adopted their own versions of the Act; but remember, each municipality must comply with California state law, and any municipality’s version can simply add more benefits.  A summary of the current California municipalities with their own paid sick leave ordinances is below, (more detail can be found via this link).  

San Diego, CA

On July 11, 2016, the City of San Diego enacted the Earned Sick Leave and Minimum Wage Ordinance (the “Ordinance”), available via this link.  The Ordinance applies to employees that are not “salaried” (exempt) and to employees who are “entitled to payment of minimum wage” (non-exempt employees).  The Ordinance applies to all businesses in San Diego, regardless of the business size or classification as a non-profit.  *Pro Tip: Employees may report any non-compliant businesses or practices using this form.  So employers, be mindful!*  Remember though: the City of San Diego must comply with California state law, which grants paid sick days to nearly all employees.  

Los Angeles, CA

Effective July 1, 2016, Los Angeles’ ordinance applies to employers with 26 or more employees, but coming up in July 2017, the ordinance will apply to employers with 25 or more employees.  All employees are eligible. Employers can either follow California’s one hour of PTO earned for every 30 hours worked method (accrual), or can award an employee 48 hours paid leave each calendar year (front-load).

Oakland, CA

Oakland’s ordinance applies to all workers within the city limits.  The ordinance allows 40 hours or five work days paid sick leave for employees of small businesses (10 or fewer employees) and allows 72 hours or nine work days paid sick leave for employees of all other sized businesses.

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco’s ordinance applies to all workers within the city limits, regardless of full- or part-time status.  PTO begins to accrue 90 days after the employee’s first day of work.  The ordinance allows 40 hours or five work days paid sick leave for employees of small businesses (10 or fewer employees) and allows 72 hours or nine work days paid sick leave for employees of all other sized businesses.

New York, NY

In addition to California, NYC adopted similar policies.  In fact, since 2014, NYC requires that all employers with five or more employees provide up to 40 hours of PTO. The pay rate for this PTO must be either equivalent to the employee’s normal pay rate, or at least minimum wage.  


We know, this is a lot!  But feel free to reach out to the experienced team here at Wilkinson Mazzeo to help you navigate these and other laws that may be lurking in the shadows.   For any questions or help, click here!  And remember: stay compliant!

By: Zachary Avina  –  05/05/17
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