On September 10, 2014, California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 1522 (the “Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014”) and made California the second state in the nation (after Connecticut) to enact a state-wide law requiring most California employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. This marks the latest development in a growing trend that has seen similar paid sick leave laws enacted in other jurisdictions in recent years, mostly at the city level, including in Seattle in 2012, in Portland, OR in 2013, and in Eugene, OR in 2014.
Under the California law, most California employees who work 30 or more days within a year will accrue one hour of paid sick leave at their regular rate of pay for every 30 hours worked. The law also imposes new notice and recordkeeping requirements onto California employers.
The law allows employees to carry over accrued paid sick days from one year to the next. Employers, however, are allowed to limit an employee’s use of paid sick days to 24 hours or three days a year and to cap accrued paid sick leave at either 48 hours or 6 days. While an employer is not obligated to pay out accrued but unused paid sick leave at termination, if an employee separates from an employer and is rehired within one year from the date of separation, previously accrued and unused paid sick days must be reinstated. If an employer already has a paid leave policy or paid time off policy, it is not required to provide additional paid sick days under the new law so long as its existing policy satisfies certain requirements, including making available an amount of leave that may be used for the same purposes and under the same conditions as specified in the Act.
The California Labor Commissioner is tasked with administering and enforcing these new requirements, including the promulgation of regulations, and can impose specified fines for violations. Employees may not file lawsuits against employers for allegedly violating the new law but such suits can be brought by the Labor Commissioner or the Attorney General. Upon prevailing, these entities are entitled to collect “on behalf of the aggrieved” employee appropriate legal and equitable relief, including reinstatement, back pay, the payment of sick days improperly withheld, and liquidated damages of $50 to each employee for each violation each day, plus reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.
Significantly, the law specifically provides that it only establishes “minimum” requirements and does not preempt or limit other laws (such as city ordinances) that provide greater accrual of paid sick days. Consequently, and even though the law does not take effect until July 1, 2015, California employers should immediately begin compliance preparations as they may have no choice but to create multiple paid sick leave policies in order to comply with overlapping laws issued by multiple jurisdictions.