Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday signed into law a measure that provides most California workers with up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave, marking a major victory for labor unions and a pivotal step that policymakers hope will continue the state’s downward trend in new coronavirus cases.
“Businesses cannot thrive in a world that’s failing,” Newsom said during a news briefing at Oakland restaurant NIDO’s Backyard. “That’s why sick leave is foundational, and keeping people healthy, keeping partons safe is so important.”
The move comes after months of labor unions and their employees pressuring the California Legislature and Newsom to reinstate the state’s sick leave mandate amid the rapid surge of the Omnicron variant. The state’s previous sick leave policy expired last September, leaving workers with only the state minimum requirement of three paid sick days.
The new law will be retroactive to Jan.1 and expire Sept. 30 — a provision that will especially benefit workers who were infected at the height of the Omicron surge. It features many of the same components as the 2021 policy but with several new rules negotiated by business leaders, including a positive test requirement in some cases.
“The governor and Legislature heard frontline workers loud and clear, and we appreciate them acting with urgency to get this done,” California Labor Federation Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski said in a statement. “Once again, California shows it’s a national leader on worker protections and COVID mitigation.”
Under the new law, employers with 26 or more employees are required to provide up to 40 hours of paid leave to full-time workers for a wide range of coronavirus-related needs, including COVID-19 symptoms, taking care of a sick family member, or watching a child who cannot attend school because of school closures or mandated quarantines. If an employee exhausts their initial 40 hours, employees much give them an additional 40 hours if they or a loved one they’re caring for can demonstrate proof of a positive coronavirus test.
In the case of part-time employees, employers must give them the same amount of hours in sick leave pay as they would typically work in a week — and double that if they show a positive test result. The new policy limits workers to up to three days — or 24 work hours — to recover from vaccine-related side effects and secure a vaccination appointment.
Since companies across the state will be asked to absorb the costs of providing workers with the additional time off, Newsom also signed legislation to restore small business tax credits that the state suspended at the start of the pandemic and to set aside more funding for small business grants.
“This much-needed tax relief is not only essential for the immediate help for employees but it also creates a pathway and lays the foundation for long-term economic recovery for our employers,” said Jennifer Barrera, CEO of the California Chamber of Commerce.
State Senator Nancy Skinner called the series of new laws a “big win for all who were involved,” including labor unions, employees and businesses.
“California is acting and we’re getting it done because none of us need to have any worker show up to work and be sick,” she said. “We are trying to end this pandemic and the way that we end it is to stop the spread of COVID.”
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