California clarifies paid sick leave law

California amends Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014.

The ink was barely dry on the original Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 when Governor Jerry Brown signed into law amendments regarding California's unique employee protection law. On July 13, 2015, urgency amendments regarding the accrual of sick leave and pay rate, among others, will hopefully clarify some aspects of the paid sick leave law that has already given rise to complications just a few weeks into its tenure.

Health Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014

In 2014, California became the first state in the U.S. to pass a law requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. The measure became effective on July 1, 2015 and mandated a minimum of one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. But confusion quickly arose regarding the pay rate for non-exempt employees, whether certain employers were exempt, and reporting requirements under the law.

Pay requirements were also difficult to calculate under the original law for commissioned employees and for employees who receive multiple hourly rates.

What the amendments mean for employers and workers

The amendments are significant, although the ultimate purpose of the law, to allow workers paid sick leave, remains unchanged. Below are explanations of the amendments passed in July:

  • Pay rate: Originally, pay for sick time depended on an employee's hourly wage. This is still true for many workers. However, under the amendment employers can now use either the regular rate of pay for the work week in which sick pay is used or a 90-day "look back" method for commissioned, non-exempt and multiple hourly rate employees.
  • Rate of accrual: Employers can now choose a different rate of accrual for paid sick time, provided that it is earned regularly and an employee has at least 24 hours of paid sick leave earned after 120 days of employment. The 120-day accrual period allows employers to not keep track of hours worked if otherwise unnecessary.
  • No inquiries needed: Employers had voiced concern that reporting requirement would force them to inquire about the reason for an employee taking a sick day. The amendment clarifies that employers do not need to ask about the health reasons for taking sick leave. However, because employees may be paid more for sick time than other time off, employers should distinguish between paid sick time and other time off.
  • Grandfather clauses: Some employers with preexisting paid time off policies will also be able to keep their policies in place, provided they provide at least one full day of paid sick leave for every 120 days worked.

Questions? Contact our firm

The amendments are effective immediately and paid sick leave has already begun accruing for employees throughout California. If you have questions regarding California's law or are concerned that an employer is not in compliance with the law, contact Watkins & Letofsky, LLP, experienced employment law attorneys in Orange County, California representing both employers and employees in employment law issues.