iStock_SICK IN BED.XSmall.jpgOver the holiday weekend, California became only the second state (after Connecticut, which began granting paid sick leave in 2012 and just passed more tweaks to it) to guarantee at least some annual paid sick leave for most full and part-time employees. Assuming Governor Brown signs the bill, California’s law would be the tenth in the nation at the state or local level that requires employers to provide paid sick leave. The bill, entitled the “Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act,” passed with hefty majorities in the Assembly and Senate, and Governor Brown has indicated that he plans to sign it. That total would match the ten states that have passed preemption laws that ban any locality from passing paid sick leave legislation.

Beginning in July 1, 2015, the bill requires public and private employers to provide eligible employees – those who work 30 or more days within a year after their hire date – with sick leave “at the rate of not less than one hour per every 30 hours worked.”  Salaried, exempt employees are deemed to work a 40 hour workweek. The only significant exemptions are for employees with certain collective bargaining agreements, some construction industry workers, home healthcare workers, and certain airline employees covered by the federal Railway Labor Act. 

The bill also requires employers to carry over unused sick leave from year to year, though they may limit employees’ total use of paid sick leave to 24 hours or three days per year and generally have no obligation to allow any accruals to exceed 48 hours or 6 days. The bill also mandates that employers provide written notice of available sick leave on the itemized wage statement California law already requires or in a separate notice in each pay period. 

The bill also clarifies that an employer is not required to provide paid sick leave in addition to existing paid leave policies, as long as those policies provide at least the same benefits. However, it also leaves several open questions. For instance, the bill does not define “30 or more days” or otherwise explain what would constitute a “day” of work. Would it be any time worked, however long? Eight hours? Something else?  

The bill also leaves its carryover rule vague. For instance, assume that a California employer voluntarily offers 12 paid time off (PTO) days at the start of every calendar year to an employee and that employee uses all 12 PTO days. Must the employer inquire into whether the employee used that PTO because of one of the covered “sick leave” reasons in Section 246.5 of the bill? Is the employer still required to offer three carryover days (in addition to the 12 it offers in our example) to its employees when its employee takes PTO for vacation and not specifically because he or she is sick? I would expect some novel and unforeseen issues for California employers that additional guidance will need to work out. As California laws often serve as a model for other states that adopt similar policies, here’s hoping state agencies can help clarify the paid sick leave law a little bit further. While the bill appears simpler in some respects than Connecticut’s law, let’s hope California employers aren’t still waiting for legislative clarifications three years later, too.