california paid sick leave laws

California Paid Sick Leave Law - What Employers & Workers Need to Know

Many state governments act to protect their citizens at work, and one of the top examples is the California paid sick leave law. 

In 2014, California mandated businesses to provide paid sick leave to employees in its Healthy Workplace Healthy Families Act (HWHFA). That law built upon federal paid sick leave regulations but told companies to provide even greater employee support.

The HWHFA act specifies that any employee of a California business who works more than 30 days a year must receive paid sick leave. It also sets guidelines for providing sick leave, sick time pay rates, and PTO considerations.

Before the Act's passage, employers set their own sick leave policies. This Act made California the second US state to mandate paid sick leave. Since that passage, California has regularly updated the law to extend leave, add requirements, and set new minimum wage standards for all employees.

In 2024, California updated the law once again. So, here’s your overview of the HWHFA and additional requirements around these California paid sick leave policies and notes on elements such as denied paid sick leave.

California Healthy Workplace Healthy Families Act

The HWHFA allows employees paid time off for their personal sickness or health care needs and to take time off to care for others.

According to Better Balance, team members can use the time off for their immediate family members, such as children, spouses, registered domestic partners, parents, parents of a spouse or registered domestic partner, grandchildren, grandparents, or siblings.

The law has requirements based on your pay stub, annual policy, and any waiting period you apply. Employees need to accrue paid sick leave of at least one hour during regular working intervals, so get some HR help to meet these requirements.

Most Californian employees are eligible for paid sick leave

Under the HWHFA, all full-time, part-time, and temporary employees who work at least 30 days a year are eligible, with some exceptions.

These exceptions, according to the California Department of Industrial Relations and Better Balance, include:

  • Employees covered by collective bargaining agreements

  • Some employees of commercial air carriers

  • Some municipal, state, and federal government employees

The law applies to exempt and non-exempt employees and businesses of all sizes. It’s important to note that some of these exceptions may not necessarily apply if the agreement, such as one from a union, does not meet the minimums specified in local laws.

Companies can offer unlimited paid sick leave immediately if they desire, as long as they meet requirements for letting people use days or for handling unused paid sick days.

Employee notifications

The HWHFA requires employers to post workplace notices about employees' rights regarding sick leave. They must also provide information about the Act at the time of hire.

Companies must display this poster in an area that is visible and accessible during a workday. If you’re a remote company, you must share this with employees in their onboarding and handbook documentation.

In addition, employers must give full transparency via a notice regarding the amount of sick time each employee has available. The law specifically requires that employers note the accrued paid sick leave time on pay stubs. It’s smart to provide updates on paid and unpaid sick leave during each pay period.

Employers must keep sick leave records for three years, and these documents must be available to employees.

In short, the California Labor Commissioner has made it easier for employees to be taken care of while they rest and recover.

Mandatory paid sick leave increase in 2024

New Year, new policy.

Starting January 1, 2024, California employers were required to structure their California paid sick leave in one of two ways:

  1. They must front-load the employee and make all 40 hours of annual sick time available at the start of the year.

  2. They can let employees accrue sick time throughout the year but must allow people to accrue up to 80 hours in total.

Employees who accrue sick time must be allowed to bank more than 40 hours, up to 80 hours, in a year, but employers can limit usage to 40 hours per year.

As in years before, these sick leave policies only impact employees working at least 30 days a year. Local jurisdictions may have additional requirements, so it’s crucial for any California employer to review all applicable laws.

One important note for employers is that new hires don’t need to get their sick leave immediately, even if you front-load for others. In this case, new hires should get:

  • 24 hours of leave by their 120th calendar day of employment. The “calendar” is essential because it includes weekends, not just the 120th work day.

  • The additional 16 hours must be awarded by the 200th calendar day of employment.

If you follow an accrual plan, new hires must accrue the same amount and have it available at the same point in the employment calendar.

What does a “year” mean in the law update?

The laws around California paid sick leave regularly use the term “year” or “each year.” This does not necessarily mean a calendar year running from January 1 to December 31.

Employers have options on how to set their year. It must be clearly explained to staff in any policy or handbook documentation. The most common uses of “year” under the law in the past have been:

  1. The calendar year.

  2. A company’s fiscal year — where leave policies must align with accounting and tax efforts.

  3. Other specified 12-month periods, typically based on an employee’s anniversary date.

Goals of California's sick leave law

The main goal of the sick leave law is to keep employees healthy. Further, it provides ample paid time off to seek preventative care.

A secondary goal is to reduce sickness overall and, ultimately, limit the number of sick days required for all employees in the workplace.

The HWHFA benefits employees, their families, and California employers all at the same time.

Team members can stay home to care for their families and don't feel they must come to work when sick, "stopping the spread" in the workplace. Of course, a healthy employee also means increased productivity.

How businesses calculate a paid sick leave policy

Employers have two options when determining the amount of leave.

The first option is the accrual method. The HWHFA specifies that covered employees accrue at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours they work. Companies do have some allowance to adjust this. 

However, team members must get consistent accrual. In total, companies must deliver the same amount of leave in a given year.

Businesses also must provide employees with at least 24 hours of accrued sick time or other paid time off by the 120th day of employment during the year they select.

The second option is the lump sum method. Employers using this method must provide at least 40 hours or five days of paid sick leave annually.

If the employees receive the lump sum allocation at the beginning of the year, the employer is not required to allow the employee to carry over unused or accrued sick leave.

Under both methods, employers may opt to give employees more paid sick time, but not less than the law requires. Employees can use the sick time in full-day or partial-day increments. 

Employees also can't incur disciplinary action for using their sick days.

Paid sick days policies to consider under the law

There’s some nuance to this law and subsequent updates. Let’s review a few of these considerations to think about how employers must act and what protections team members have.

Employers must pay regular wages to employees on sick leave

Under the labor code, employers must pay team members at their typical pay rate when they take sick leave.

For non-exempt employees, employers should pay based on the hours taken in that specific workweek or on a 90-day average. The calculation does not include overtime hours.

The law assumes that exempt employees work 40 hours a week, regardless of the number of hours they work. The 2024 update notes that exempt employees must be paid sick rates as well as other paid leave, such as vacation pay.

Employers do not need to pay out unused sick leave if employees leave

Employees who leave the company do not receive cash for their unused but accrued sick time under the law. Companies may offer this on their own.

The one legal exception occurs if employers include paid sick time as part of their overall paid time off policy. In that case, the employee receives payment for their unused PTO.

If an employee rejoins the same employer within a year of resignation, that same employer must reinstate the paid sick days. There are two conditions here:

  1. The employee was not paid out earned sick time under the PTO-sick-time combination mentioned above.

  2. The employee must return within 12 months of leaving the company.

Unused sick time sometimes carries over into a new year

Employees may sometimes carry over unused sick time.

California employers who choose the accrual method must allow employees to carry over unused time. The rollover in a new calendar year can be up to 48 hours.

Businesses that provide the lump sum at the beginning of a year do not have to allow carryovers of accrued sick leave.

What paid sick leave may be used for

The purpose of the HWHFA is to keep families and team members well. Qualifying employees may take paid sick leave under this general guideline for multiple reasons. Some examples include:

  • Getting preventive care for themselves or taking family members to these appointments.

  • Caring for a sick family member.

While the HWHFA specifically notes which family members qualify, some localities may define eligible family members more broadly. For example, Emeryville includes service dogs in the definition of family members, according to the Society for Human Resources Management. Be cautious when requiring verification for a family member.

  • Adhering to state supplemental leave laws or requirements, such as being a designated person for caregiving.

  • Recovering after domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.

Employers may not deny sick leave requests — even under short notice

Under most cases listed in sick leave ordinances, an employer must allow the sick leave request.

However, in cases where the employee could have reasonably foreseen the need for taking time off (such as a previously scheduled doctor's appointment), the employer can refuse the request.

Here are a few important considerations:

  • In any situation, the employer cannot require that the employee find a replacement as a condition for taking off time.

  • Additionally, the employer may not discipline the employee in any way for using this benefit.

  • In all cases, an employee may request paid sick time in writing or orally.

Be cautious when denying leave because you don’t want to run afoul of the law’s anti-retaliation provisions.

Employers may combine time off and sick leave in certain circumstances

Employers may combine paid sick leave and other annual time off in certain circumstances. However, the employee must receive at least the number of sick days the law requires.

For example, some employers offer a bank of 15 days of paid time off (PTO) annually to cover vacation, holidays, and sick time. In this case, the employer must allow the employee to take at least three of them as sick time.

2024 update to the COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave

On February 19, 2022, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law to cover COVID-19 issues. That law provided up to 80 hours of additional paid sick leave if employees can't work because of COVID. It applied retroactively to January 1, 2022, and was in effect until the end of that year.

The Supplemental Paid Sick Leave law differs from the permanent HWHFA because employees are eligible for the time immediately, rather than accruing it. Another difference is employers may require employees to use other paid time off, such as vacation time, before using the supplemental paid sick leave.

According to the state, the COVID-19 supplemental law expired on December 31, 2022. However, this law is a good reminder of how a state may supplement its leave or sick time policies at any moment. 

We recommend California employers review it when considering how to structure their leave policies and what kinds of unplanned events they review during the process.

OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS) and paid sick leave

California employers with more than 100 team members also must follow the OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards (ETS), which protect health care workers.

The most notable examples of OSHA’s additional requirements were COVID-19 testing, masks, and vaccination requirements. California’s reliance on OSHA guidance means employers should monitor the agency to see when a new regulation supersedes any state requirement.

California paid sick leave summary

California state law requires employers, including households employing service workers, to provide at least 40 hours of annual sick leave.

Companies also can develop paid sick leave policies that provide additional time off. Companies must pay team members at their regular rate, and legislation specifies how employers must calculate that pay rate.

The state grants paid sick time policies for illness or preventative care for employees and their families. Companies must grant requests for paid sick leave if the leave is for the purposes described in the law. 

Companies with questions about the law can consult the updated information from the state.

Hubstaff is essential in helping companies comply with state labor laws such as the HWHFA. Hubstaff contains many human resource features, such as payroll tracking, employee monitoring, and employee scheduling.

These solutions help simplify human resource functions, utilization, and productivity to create a more efficient business overall. In addition, our software allows supervisors to manage employee time-off requests easily.

Hubstaff is a great solution to help California companies comply with sick leave laws and federal paid sick leave mandates. Sign up for a 14-day trial or schedule a demo today.

Important notice: The information in this article is general in nature, and you should consider whether the information is appropriate to your needs. Legal and other matters referred to in this article are not advice. They are based on Hubstaff’s interpretation of laws existing at the time and should not be relied on in place of professional advice. Please review all laws with counsel.

Hubstaff is not responsible for the content of any site owned by a third party that may be linked to this article, and no warranty is made by us concerning the suitability, accuracy, or timeliness of the content of any site that may be linked to this article. Hubstaff disclaims all liability (except for any liability which by law cannot be excluded) for any error, inaccuracy, or omission from the information contained in this article and any loss or damage suffered by any person directly or indirectly through relying on this information.

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