Abill pending in the California Senate, Senate Bill (SB) No. 616, proposes to expand the number of paid sick days that California employers must offer to employees.

Under current law, eligible California employees are entitled to a minimum of twenty-four hours, or three days, of paid sick leave per year. SB 616 proposes to expand the entitlement to fifty-six hours, or seven days.

The proposed amendment preserves the option of providing the benefit on a lump-sum basis or via an accrual method over a period of time.

The annual lump-sum option would be increased to fifty-six hours, or seven days, from the current minimum of twenty-four hours, or three days.

The accrual option would also change under the proposed amendment. Employees could continue to accrue sick leave at the rate of one hour for every thirty hours worked. However, the alternative accrual rate, which is currently twenty-four hours by the 120th day of the year, would be changed to fifty-six hours by the 280th day of the year.

In addition, the proposed bill would increase the minimum accrual cap. Under current law, the minimum accrual cap is forty-eight hours, or six days. The proposed bill would increase the cap to 112 hours, or fourteen days.

The legislative analysis associated with the bill laments that California has lost its progressive edge as other states have adopted paid sick leave laws:

"Once leading the nation as the second state to adopt a paid sick leave policy, behind Connecticut in 2011," the analysis states, "California now appears to lag behind other states in the number of sick days provided."

The analysis points to New Mexico, which requires employers to provide at least sixty-four hours of paid leave to employees, and notes that the amended law would still fall below what is mandated by certain California cities: "[S]even cities in California already mandate at least 9–10 days of leave for most workers. The seven days required under this bill, will still leave California's sick leave standards weaker than those of San Diego, Santa Monica, West Hollywood, San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville."

The analysis further justifies the proposed expansion by referencing the expiration of the state's generous COVID-19 sick pay mandate, which was in place from 2021 through 2022. That mandate provided up to eighty hours of sick pay for COVID-19–related reasons, but the law expired on December 31, 2022. "Temporary expansions of paid sick leave policies, which have all expired, are not enough to provide a reliable safety net for workers and adequately protect public health year-round," the analysis states.

In support of the proposed expansion, the legislative analysis states the following:

"Workers without sufficient sick leave are either expected to work while sick, risking the health and safety of co-workers and customers, or stay home and forgo wages, jeopardizing that worker's own ability to survive or keep their job."

"Therefore," the legislative analysis states, "SB 616 will increase the amount of paid sick leave employers are required to provide to employees from three to seven days. Workers without paid sick days are twice as likely as those with paid sick days to seek emergency room care for themselves. In times of illness, workers shouldn't have to resort to going to the emergency room for medical care because they couldn't take time off during the workday, or worse, neglect[] their health out of fear of losing income."

The bill is currently pending in the state Senate. If it passes in that chamber, it will move on to the state Assembly, and then to the governor's desk. The governor has until October 14, 2023, to sign bills into law or veto them. If enacted, the law would take effect on January 1, 2024.

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