BY CATHIE ANDERSON | THE SACRAMENTO BEE | TRIBUNE NEWS SERVICE
California lawmakers stood in the vanguard in 2014 when they mandated that workers be allowed three days of sick pay annually, but more than a dozen other states have since enacted more generous sick leave policies than that one.
Sen. Lena Gonzalez , D- Long Beach , said it’s time that California increase the amount of mandated sick time, and she has introduced Senate Bill 616 to get it done. Initially, the measure would have mandated at least seven days of sick pay, but Gonzalez amended the bill last week to say at least five days.
COVID-19 left people unable to work for significant periods, Gonzalez said, and federal and state laws ensured they got the supplemental recovery time and sick pay to avoid infecting co-workers and suffering financial setbacks. Even now, it can take five days or longer for COVID-19 to clear the body, supporters say.
“Families no longer have the temporary protections afforded by COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave, which ended last year,” Gonzalez said. “This back-to-school season, let’s commit to ensuring that parents can take the sick leave they need to take care of their health and the health of their children.”
A coalition of employer groups opposed the legislation, saying that many small businesses are still in survival mode because of financial setbacks they incurred during the pandemic.
“Despite the economic struggles that businesses have faced recently, the number of overlapping leaves has grown over the last few years and continues to grow,” they wrote in letters to legislators. “Some are paid and some are unpaid, but even unpaid leaves increase costs on employers because the employer must either shift the work to other existing employees on short notice, which leads to overtime pay, or be understaffed.”
They also pointed to an estimate from the workforce solution company Circadian that said unscheduled absenteeism costs roughly $3,600 per year for each hourly employee in this state.
Poll: Small business owners support 7 days
In July, though, the Small Business Majority said that its polling on SB 616 found that an overwhelming majority of small business owners, some 85%, support expanding guaranteed annual paid sick days from three days to as many as seven. The organization noted that owners have concerns about their employees’ finances as well as their own.
Kim Robinson , who manages two health clinics in Stockton for Community Medical Centers , said she has long supported SB 616 as a wellness advocate but that she now is facing a sick time challenge at work that has shown her just how crucial this measure is.
Robinson’s employer allows the 56 hours of sick time that SB 616 initially required, she said, and even so, she has struggled to accommodate the demands of caring for not only herself but also an adult child and a parent who both have ongoing medical conditions.
Robinson said she believes her story encapsulates what many workers experience as they try to hold down jobs that provide the income their families need to survive while also trying to care for ailing relatives.
A Community Medical employee for five years, Robinson said she feared the company would fire her for taking excessive time off after her mother’s health deteriorated two years ago. She was running through her sick time and, although her company’s sick leave exceeded the state-mandated time, she knew it wouldn’t be enough last year.
The thing about sick time, she said, is that if you use all those hours up, you have to wait until you can accrue more time before you can take leave. With her mother’s condition, she said, emergencies and unexpected urgent needs had cropped up.
Robinson decided last year that it would probably be best to apply for an intermittent leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. If workers have qualifying reasons, and Robinson’s case did, this law entitles them to take unpaid, job-protected time off to care for themselves or family members.
If workers have earned paid time off, FMLA allows them to use it rather than going without a check. Robinson had acquired as much as 224 hours by early this year.
Community Medical approved Robinson’s FMLA request last year, and before it expired this summer, the company’s human resources team reached out to her and asked if she wanted to renew it. Robinson assured them that she did, and at their request, supplied them with information from her mother’s physician explaining how much time she might need.
“Her provider put in that it could be up to 40 hours a week, up to eight hours a day. This isn’t saying that this is what’s going to happen,” Robinson said. “It is just giving guidelines that, if it needs to happen, I’m able to take that time off, and it will fall under the Family Medical Leave Act so that my hours are protected and can’t be used against me as I’m taking excessive time off and be terminated from my job.”
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