What Is the California Paid Sick Leave Law?

If you’re a business owner with employees in California, you most likely need to offer your employees paid sick leave. That’s because there’s the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014.

This California paid sick leave law provides most employees in the state with paid time off if they need to be absent from work for medical reasons or to take care of an ailing family member.

Not familiar with the California paid sick leave law? We’re here to help.

Paid sick leave law California

Does the California sick time law apply to my business?

Most likely.

The California paid sick leave law applies to employers of all sizes.

Its benefits must be extended to almost all employees who have worked in the state for the same employer for at least 30 days in a 12-month period. That includes full-time, part-time, and temporary employees.

The exceptions are:

  • Employees covered by qualifying collective bargaining agreements,
  • Airline flight deck and cabin crew members who receive equivalent time off, and
  • Retired individuals who work for government entities and receive annuities.

This law applies to any California-based employees that you have, so you’re on the hook to be compliant even if your business is based in another state.

Okay, got it. How much paid sick leave do I need to give my employees?

The exact amount of paid sick leave that you need to give your employees can vary. That’s because you can comply with the California paid sick leave law in a few different ways.

Let’s run through each option.

a) The accrual method: 1+ hours for every 30 hours worked

In this default method, your eligible employees will start to earn at least one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked as soon as they begin their employment. They can start using this accrued paid sick leave on the 90th day of employment.

As an employer, you can

  • Limit the amount of paid sick leave that employees may use each year to 24 hours, or three days, and
  • Limit the total hours accrued each year to 48 hours, or six days.

The year starts on the employee’s hire date, and any unused paid sick leave can be carried over into the next year.

b) The lump sum method: 24+ hours per year

You can also offer your employees a set amount of paid leave upfront.

To choose this option, you need to provide at least 24 hours, or 3 days, of paid leave at the beginning of each 12-month period. These hours can be specifically for sick leave, or they can be earmarked for different uses, as long as those uses include sick leave.

New hires still have to wait 90 days before they can use their sick leave.

c) The grandfathered policies: see details  

If you had a paid time off (PTO) or paid sick leave policy in place before January 1, 2015, your policy may be grandfathered in if an employee can accrue

  • At least 8 hours, or 1 day, of paid sick leave or PTO within the first three months of employment every year, and
  • At least 24 hours, or 3 days, within nine months of employment.

d) The unlimited method: unlimited

You can also skip all the numbers and provide an unlimited paid time off policy.

Are there any city-specific laws on top of the state law?

Yep. Several areas in California have their own paid sick leave law in addition to the state regulations. These include:

  • Berkeley
  • Emeryville
  • Long Beach
  • Los Angeles
  • Oakland
  • San Diego
  • San Francisco
  • Santa Monica

Some of the laws cover all workers while others only apply to certain types. For example, Long Beach’s paid sick leave is specific to hotel workers.

Employers are responsible for ensuring they comply with both state and local regulations. Where sick time laws differ between the state and local rules, you must offer the most generous paid sick leave option to your employees.

What can my employees use the paid sick leave for?

Your employees can request to use their paid sick time either verbally or in writing.

As long as an employee gives notice, you must allow them to use their accrued and available sick leave without any adverse consequences.

Acceptable uses of paid sick leave include:

  • Diagnosis, care, or treatment for existing health conditions
  • Preventive care

That medical care can be for themselves or a family member. Eligible family members include:

  • Spouses
  • Registered domestic partners
  • Children
  • Parents
  • Grandparents
  • Grandchildren
  • Siblings

Employees can also take paid sick leave if they need to get medical aid, psychological counseling, or other services in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.

Anything else I need to know to be compliant with the California paid sick leave law?

Here are a few other things you must do as an employer:

1. Display this poster in a place where employees can easily see it.

If you have employees in San Francisco, you can use this poster that combines both the state and city requirements.

2. Give all employees a written notice of the California paid sick leave benefits when you hire them.

3. Make sure your employees know how many paid sick days they have left. This information can be shared on a paystub or via a document sent on the same day as their paycheck.

If you offer unlimited PTO, you must indicate that paid sick leave is unlimited.

4. Finally, you must record how many hours have been earned and used and maintain these records for three years.

Do I need to pay out unused paid sick leave?

PTO payout laws can be confusing. Unless your company’s policy says there will be a payout for unused paid sick time, you don’t need to pay out unused sick days when an employee leaves.

However, if an employee leaves your company and is rehired within one year, that employee can reclaim the previously accrued paid sick leaveas long as it was not already paid out.

Have more specific questions about your situation? Since the ins and outs of the California paid sick leave law can be tricky, consult an HR professional to help you stay compliant.

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