KPBS: Proposed California law would increase minimum paid sick days from 3 to 7 per year

August 23, 2023

Denise Barlage works as a grocery cashier in Huntington Park, near Los Angeles. She said she used some paid sick leave when she recently caught a virus. The rest of her guaranteed three days were quickly used up on twice monthly doctors appointments for her recent diagnosis of osteoporosis.

Barlage said she earns an hour of paid time off per 60 hours worked, which she’s trying to save to be able to attend the appointments.

With no paid sick leave left, she faces a costly choice if she gets sick: Come into work anyway and risk infecting the community. Or stay home, lose wages and risk her job.

It’s a common dilemma. Nearly two-thirds of Californians live paycheck to paycheck. Missing a day of work without pay can mean not putting food on the table or making rent.

Barlage, who also leads the Fair Workweek LA Coalition, is one of many labor advocates pushing California lawmakers to increase the minimum paid sick days from three to seven per year.

“Companies aren’t going to give it to us,” Barlage said. “It’s going to be our politicians who recognize workers as the strong build of this community.”

The law would apply to all employers regardless of size. Employer groups, led by the California Chamber of Commerce, say many businesses can’t afford the change and would pass the cost on to customers or cut jobs, wages or other benefits.

Proponents, including Oakland small business owner Catherean Mitchell, argue paid sick leave ultimately protects a business’s bottom line by preventing the spread of illness to other employees and retaining the workforce.

Dr. Curtis Chan, deputy health officer for San Mateo County, said three days is simply not enough to protect public health when the infectious period for diseases is often five-to-ten days.

“We should ask ourselves, do we want someone with a bad cough, whether it’s from COVID, flu, RSV, pertussis, to be working in your childcare center, the classroom with your children, factories or nursing homes?” Chan said. “Do we want someone with diarrhea from salmonella, shigella or other bacteria to be processing fruits, vegetables, meats?”

Parents are often forced to stretch the three days between themselves and caring for sick children.

State Senator Lena Gonzalez, (D-Long Beach), who sponsored SB 616, also argued three days is not enough time for survivors of sexual assault to recover before returning to work. A 2022 report said one in seven adults in California had experienced sexual violence in the past year.

Some cities already go beyond the state minimum.

San Diego law requires employers to provide accruals of 10 paid sick days per year — the highest in the state — but they can limit an employee’s use of the hours to five days in a benefit year. That minimum does not extend to other cities in the county.

The state law would override local laws, except where they go beyond the state minimum.

The law would also grant railroad employees seven days of sick leave, but unpaid — freight railroad companies argued that excessive unplanned absences hinder railroad operations and interrupt the supply chain.

Lawmakers estimate the change would cost the state roughly $70 million more per year.

New Mexico currently leads the country in paid sick leave. The state requires every employer to provide at least 64 hours per year.

Several recent attempts at expanding paid sick leave in California have stalled in the legislature.

The state Senate has just three weeks remaining in the legislative session to pass this bill.

Read this article on KPBS, here