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Understanding Paid Sick Leave in California: Critical FAQs for 2024

Contributor: David Ma, Implementation Specialist

February 2nd, 2024 | 6 min. read

By Tony Calavitta

Understanding Paid Sick Leave in California: Critical FAQs for 2024

You asked, here’s our answer.

In our recent webinar, Critical Compliance Alert: 2024 Law Updates You Can’t Ignore, our speaker provided a comprehensive overview of 2024’s hottest legal updates, starring the changes to California’s labor laws that are most likely to get employers into hot water.

After surveying hundreds of attendees and reviewing their question submissions, the Oscar for “Topic of Interest” goes to the now in-effect changes to California’s Paid Sick Leave Law.

So, what did we do with these burning questions?  We compiled the top 5 inquiries and tasked our team of experienced HR specialists to find the answers for you.

In this article, you’ll find each of these FAQs featured with expert answers.

Without further ado – brought to the screen nearest you - here are the 5 most common questions employers have about paid sick leave in California, updated for 2024.

Paid Sick Leave in California FAQs

If you’re reading this article, you already know what paid sick leave is and, more than likely, understand the basic requirements for it under California employment law.

But can you say, given the recent 2024 adjustments, that your company’s sick leave policies are t’s crossed, i’s dotted compliant with California’s relevant requirements?

Keep reading to learn the finer, and most discussed, details surrounding paid sick leave in California.

FAQ #1: Should I Follow Federal, California State, or Local Sick Leave Laws?

Employers are required to observe all applicable laws.

This means complying with federal laws where they apply, adhering to California's state laws for all employees working within the state, and following city or county laws for employees in those specific jurisdictions.

When laws overlap, the provisions that are most generous, or most beneficial to the employee, must be applied.

It's crucial for employers to stay informed about the specific requirements of each jurisdiction in which they operate to ensure full compliance and to support their employees effectively.

To help with this, here's a breakdown of what you need to know for federal, state, and local paid sick leave compliance in California:

Federal law requirements

Currently, there is no overarching federal law mandating paid sick leave for all employers.

However, certain federal laws, like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), provide unpaid leave for specific circumstances. Employers must comply with these provisions where applicable, but they do not preclude the need to observe more stringent state or local laws.

California law requirements

California mandates paid sick leave for employees who work for the same employer for at least 30 days within a year in the state.

The law requires employers to either provide employees with at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked or a frontloaded sum of at least 40 hours of paid sick leave at the start of each year.

With accrued paid sick leave, employees are eligible to start using it after 90 days of employment. With up-front paid sick leave, 3 days or 24 hours of leave must be available for employees to use by the 120th calendar day of employment and all 40 hours must be available for use by the 200th calendar day of employment. .

For the latest updates to California’s Paid Sick Leave Law, check out our comprehensive article, Paid Sick Leave in California – What's New in 2024? (And, What's Next).

Local law requirements

In addition to state laws, several cities and counties in California have enacted their own paid sick leave ordinances, often with provisions more generous than the state law.

Here’s a list of jurisdictions in California with independent paid sick leave laws complete with links to information on their specific employer requirements:

Employers operating in these jurisdictions must comply with both state and local laws, adhering to the law most beneficial to the employee. This means if a city or county law offers criteria providing greater benefits than the state law, employers must observe that respective local law in that jurisdiction.

FAQ #2: Does California’s Paid Sick Leave Law apply to part-time, temporary, and intern positions?

Yes.

California's Paid Sick Leave Law extends to nearly all employees, including those in part-time, temporary, and paid intern positions, who work for the same employer for at least 30 days within a year in the state of California. In the case of temporary or seasonal employment, employers must track and keep a record of accrued sick leave hours which must be reinstated to the employee should their employment ever resume.

Employers must ensure compliance with these provisions, offering the appropriate accrual of paid sick leave to all eligible employees, regardless of their employment classification.

This inclusive approach is designed to ensure that all workers have access to paid sick leave, recognizing the importance of health and well-being across all types of employment.

FAQ #3: Is it better to allocate paid sick leave by frontloading or using an accrual system?

The choice between frontloading paid sick leave or using an accrual system depends on your business's specific needs, the nature of your workforce, and your administrative capabilities.

Both methods are compliant with California's Paid Sick Leave Law, but they offer different advantages and may suit different types of businesses.

Here are key factors to consider when choosing between frontloading or an accrual system:

Frontloading paid sick leave

Frontloading the entire amount of paid sick leave at the beginning of each year simplifies administration, record-keeping, and generally has a lower required cap. Providing employees with immediate access to sick leave can be particularly beneficial in promoting a healthy work environment and enhancing employee satisfaction and retention.

While frontloading simplifies administration, it requires the employer to provide the full amount of sick leave upfront, which might be more than what an employee would accrue during the length of their employment under an accrual system. This could represent a higher immediate cost for employers, especially for new hires who may not stay the entire year.

Allocating paid sick leave using an accrual system

Accrual systems align sick leave accumulation with the amount of time an employee works, potentially offering a more balanced approach for businesses. From a cost perspective, it can be seen as more fair since employees earn sick leave comparable to the hours they work. This system may also encourage longer tenure with the company, as employees accumulate more leave the longer they work.

However, managing an accrual system is more complicated, requiring diligent tracking and record-keeping to ensure compliance with accrual rates, caps, and carryover provisions. This administrative complexity is only heightened for businesses with a large number of part-time or seasonal employees.

Deciding between frontloading and an accrual system

Here are a few tips to inform your method of paid sick leave distribution:

  • Consider your administrative capacity:
    If your business has the resources to manage ongoing tracking, an accrual system might be manageable. If simplifying administration is a priority, frontloading could be advantageous.

  • Assess employee needs and preferences:
    For workplaces with a history of high turnover, frontloading may not be a cost-effective solution though it could incentivize employee retention. In more stable work environments where employees value accruing benefits over time, an accrual system may be preferred.

  • Review financial implications:
    Frontloading requires a larger immediate allocation of funds, while accrual spreads out the liability over the year. It is important to note, that for the purpose of labor forecasting or planning a schedule able to meet the operational demands of your business, an accrual system can also simplify employee absence projections.

Ultimately, the best choice for you depends on a careful balance between the needs of your business, the preferences of your employees, and the job market.

FAQ #4: Under which circumstances can employees use paid sick leave in California?

In California, employees are entitled to use paid sick leave for a variety of reasons, ensuring they have the necessary time off for health-related issues without losing pay.

These circumstances are broadly defined to cover not only the employee's health needs but also those of their family members.

Here are the primary situations where paid sick leave can be utilized:

  • The employee’s own health care needs including diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing condition.
  • The health care needs of an employee’s family members including diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing condition of a child, sibling, parent, spouse, registered domestic partner, grandchild, or grandparent.
  • The employee’s own or the preventative care needs of an employee’s family members including annual physicals, flu shots, etc.
  • The employee’s own safety and health issues related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

Please note: Local jurisdictions may expand upon these circumstances (See FAQ #1 for guidance on how to comply under state vs. local law conflicts).

Employers should familiarize themselves with both state and local regulations and clearly communicate these rights with employees to ensure full compliance.

FAQ #5: Do I have to pay out employees for unused paid sick leave hours?

No.

In California, employers are not required to pay out employees for unused paid sick leave hours at the end of their employment.

This is a key distinction from vacation pay, which, under California law, is considered earned wages and must be paid out upon termination.

However, if an employer combines sick leave and vacation time into a single, alternative Paid Time Off (PTO) policy, the entire time-off balance is considered the same as vacation pay and must be paid out upon termination.

It's important for employers to clearly communicate this policy to all employees to avoid confusion surrounding the value of different leave types as earned wages or otherwise. This can be done through employee handbooks, during onboarding processes, or via posted notices in the workplace that outline the specifics of the company’s paid sick leave policy, including accrual, use, and termination guidelines.

Still have questions? We can help!

By reading this article, you surely understand the key aspects of California's Paid Sick Leave Law and have more clarity on how to comply with these regulations.

Here at Combined, we know that every business is different and that you may have more specific concerns tailored distinctly to your company.

So, if you are reading this and find yourself with lingering questions or need further guidance on compliance within your organization, we're here to help.

Our goal is to ensure that you feel confident and well-informed about your responsibilities and the rights of your employees.

With that in mind, our team of experienced HR specialists is just a meeting away from offering you personalized support and solutions customized to your business's unique needs.

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Schedule a meeting today for confidence that your paid sick leave policies are completely compliant.

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This article is not intended to be exhaustive nor should any discussion or opinions be construed as legal advice. Readers should contact legal counsel for legal advice.