Paid Sick Leave in California and Beyond

Sick employeeLast July, about 6.5 million California workers became eligible for paid sick leave. A new law requires all employers to provide a minimum of three days of paid sick leave per year, regardless of the size of the business. The law applies to full- and part-time workers. The primary limitation is that employees must work a minimum of 30 days in the first year after becoming employed to be eligible. They are eligible to take sick time after 90 days of employment.

The law, the Healthy Workplace Healthy Family Act of 2014, especially benefits low-wage workers in service industries that traditionally provided no paid sick leave. Such workers frequently had to choose between working while sick or taking time off without pay. They sometimes faced penalties such as reduced hours or even termination for taking days off while sick.

Under the new law, employees cannot be penalized for taking sick leave. They must be paid for a minimum of three days annually. In addition, employers cannot fire employees who take sick days for at least 30 days after they take sick days, unless the employer can show another, unrelated reason for terminating that employee.

The law allows employers to either provide all the paid sick leave at the beginning of the year or when a worker is hired or have employees accumulate one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employers must report sick leave accrued and taken on pay stubs.

Places in the U.S. Where Paid Sick Leave Is Available

Four states, Washington, D.C.; Montgomery County, Maryland; and at least 22 cities - the number keeps growing - have laws requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. However, the type of coverage offered varies by jurisdiction. For example, New York City requires employers to pay for 40 hours of sick leave, while Oakland, California, requires employers to provide 72 hours if the business has 10 or more employees. In Connecticut, an employee must work 85 days before taking sick leave, while in Massachusetts and California, employees must work 90 days.

All Other Developed Countries Have Paid Sick Leave

The patchwork of laws related to paid sick leave in the United States stands in contrast to sick leave benefits that employers outside the U.S. are required to provide. Although most U.S. workers are now covered under the Family and Medical Leave Act that allows them to take sick leave for up to 12 weeks, that leave is unpaid. Despite recent changes, paid sick leave laws cover only about 40 percent of U.S. workers.

Unlike the United States, all developed countries and many others, including many so-called Third World nations, provide some level of national paid sick leave. Although some countries have restrictions on when one can take sick leave or the size of businesses required to provide it, the U.S. is one of only a handful of countries throughout the world that does not have some form of national paid sick leave for its workers. These other countries include India, Angola, Laos, Somalia, South Korea and Mozambique.

The U.S. is the only country in the Western Hemisphere without some form of paid sick leave. Member nations in the European Union and many other countries must provide a minimum of 26 weeks of paid sick and maternity leave.

Some California Cities Have Different Sick Leave Laws

When compared with many countries that mandate paid sick leave, California is not particularly generous. California cities that provide sick leave offer more. Oakland, Emeryville and San Francisco, for example, provide 40 hours of paid leave for employees of businesses with fewer than 10 workers and 72 hours for employees in companies with 10 or more workers.

Although a sizable minority of American workers have no sick leave, the situation is evolving. Cities and states throughout the country have legislation or ordinances in the works. Even if every one of these initiatives becomes law, however, the United States will remain a patchwork of unequal laws with different amounts of paid leave and varied eligibility rules that depend on where an employee lives.