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Paid Sick Leave in California: Comparing State vs. City Regulations

Contributor: Judy Liang, aPHR

January 26th, 2024 | 13 min. read

By Tony Calavitta

Paid Sick Leave in California: Comparing State vs. City Regulations

From the sun-soaked beaches of Malibu to the cloud-kissed peaks of Yosemite, from Mojave’s barren desert backdrop to Los Angeles’ highway of high-rises, there’s no question that the state of California is a landscape of contrast.

This diversity, however, is not just geographical. It extends into the state's legal framework as well. Particularly evident in California's approach to paid sick leave, the requirements of this law vary significantly from one city to another.

What do these jurisdictional discrepancies mean for businesses across the Golden State?

Compliance challenges!

They add another layer of complexity to compliance, requiring California employers to not only be well-versed in statewide paid sick leave requirements but also acutely aware of local leave laws as well (And finding all of this information – less yet timely updates to it – can easily turn into Where’s Waldo™).

So, where can you find these critical compliance details?

Right here!

In this article, we will explore the intricacies of California’s paid sick leave laws at both the state and city levels.

Whether you operate a small business nestled in the vineyards of Napa Valley or champion a growing enterprise along the bustling streets of San Diego, reading this article will provide you with the up-to-date, location-specific information you need to keep your paid sick leave policies compliant.

California's Paid Sick Leave Law: An overview of employer requirements updated for 2024

Even in California, where the year-round weather defies the very notion of contracting a cold, having compliant paid sick leave policies is an employment essential.

Laws governing sick leave ensure that when the thermometer runs high and the bedside tissue box runs low, employees won’t have to worry about missed hours when taking the necessary time to rest and recover (And, by proxy, the workplace won’t become ground zero for an all-staff epidemic).

 

To this end, California has implemented regulations that define the minimum standards for paid sick leave across the state.

Here is a  breakdown of California’s statewide law governing the right to paid sick leave:

Effective date:

This law took effect on July 1, 2015, with recent amendments implemented on January 1, 2024.

Employee eligibility:

Employees who work at least 30 days within a year from the start of their employment in California are eligible for paid sick leave. Employees can begin using accrued paid sick leave after 90 days of employment.

Allocation requirements:

Accrual

Under the standard accrual policy, employees earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Employers may use different accrual methods, but these must result in at least 24 hours of accrued sick leave by the 120th calendar day of employment and 40 hours by the 200th calendar day. Additionally, employers can cap the total accrued paid sick leave to no more than 80 hours or t10 days.

While employees can accrue more than 5 days of sick leave, employers are allowed to limit the use of paid sick leave to 40 hours or 5 days per year, whichever is more.

Upfront (Frontloading)

Employers may also adopt an up-front policy, where the full amount of sick leave for the year is made available immediately at the beginning of each year of employment, calendar year, or 12-month period.

For initial hires, 24 hours or three days must be available by the 120th calendar day of employment, and 40 hours or 5 days by the 200th calendar day. This policy requires that at least 40 hours or 5 days of paid sick leave be available for the employee’s use from the start of each year.

Permissible uses:

In California, paid sick leave serves several critical functions to ensure that employees have the necessary time and support to address a range of personal and family health and safety needs.

It can be utilized for the diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition, whether it's for the employee themselves or a family member. Additionally, it covers preventive care for the employee or their family member.

Beyond health concerns, paid sick leave is also available for situations related to being a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

For more information on the latest compliance updates to California’s paid sick leave requirements, check out our article, Paid Sick Leave in California – What’s New in 2024? (And, What’s Next), or visit the State of California Department of Industrial Relations website.

Local Paid Sick Leave Laws in California: A comparison of city-specific employer requirements

The above statewide requirements are straightforward enough, right?

Here comes the caveat – when it comes to paid sick leave in California, employers also need to consider local regulations. While the statewide law sets a standardized baseline for paid sick leave, local city ordinances may raise the bar.

And guess what?

8 cities in California do just this.

So, what happens when local laws demand more from employers than the state law?

Generally speaking, they must adhere to both local and state laws. And, as a rule of thumb, the law that better benefits employees is the one employers need to follow. In other words, if a city's ordinance offers more generous sick leave than the state law, that's the criteria employers in that city should meet.

Does your city’s sick leave requirement exceed the statewide standard?  (Hint: Find out below!)

Here is a comparison of the paid sick leave laws in the 8 anomalous cities, detailing how each one stacks up against California's statewide law:

Paid Sick Leave Law in Berkeley, CA

Effective date:

The law took effect on October 1, 2016, with leave accrual provisions effective from October 1, 2017.

Employee eligibility:

All employees who work at least 2 hours per week within the geographic boundaries of Berkeley are eligible. This includes employees of employers located outside Berkeley.

Allocation requirements:

Accrual

Employees accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, beginning either on the law’s effective date or the employee’s first day of employment, whichever is later.

Accrual caps

Accrual caps are set based on employer size:

  • Small employers (24 or fewer employees) – Cap set at 48 hours.
  • Large employers (25 or more employees) – Cap set at 72 hours.

Frontloading

There is no specific upfront allocation policy mentioned for Berkeley.

Usage requirements:

Employees must be allowed to use their paid sick leave no later than their 90th calendar day of employment.

Usage caps

Usage caps are set based on employer size:

  • Small employers may cap usage at 48 hours per year.
  • Large employers cannot cap usage. Employees are entitled to use any leave they’ve accrued.

Carryover conditions

Unused sick leave must be carried over to the next year, up to the applicable accrual cap. Providing leave as a lump sum does not eliminate the need for carryover.

Permissible uses

Sick leave can be used for the employee's or a family member's illness, injury, or medical condition, including for diagnosis, care, treatment, or preventive care.

The City of Berkeley vs. California:

Berkeley's paid sick leave law offers more inclusive eligibility criteria compared to the state law, covering employees who work as few as 2 hours per week.

The law also provides specific accrual caps based on employer size, which is a unique feature compared to the statewide law.

The possibility of frontloading and the detailed usage and carryover provisions further distinguish Berkeley's law from the state's baseline requirements.

Paid Sick Leave Law in Emeryville, CA

Effective date:

Emeryville's paid sick leave law took effect on July 1, 2015.

Employee eligibility:

Any employee who works at least 2 hours per week within Emeryville's geographic boundaries and is entitled to minimum wage under California law is eligible. This applies to employers with one or more employees in Emeryville, regardless of the employer's location.

Allocation requirements:

Accrual

Employees accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked in Emeryville. Accrual begins on the law’s effective date or the employee’s first day of employment, whichever is later.

Accrual caps

The yearly caps on paid sick leave accrual depend on employer size:

  • Small employers (55 or fewer employees) – Cap set at 48 hours.
  • Large employers (56 or more employees) – Cap set at 72 hours.

Frontloading

Employers may choose to frontload paid sick leave, providing a lump sum of either 48 or 72 hours (based on employee count) at the beginning of each benefit year.

Usage requirements:

Usage caps

The number of hours an employee can use per year also depends on employer size:

  • Small employers (55 or fewer employees) – Cap set at 48 hours.
  • Large employers (56 or more employees) – Cap set at 72 hours.

Carryover conditions

Accrued but unused paid sick leave carries over to the next year, subject to the employer’s accrual cap.

Permissible uses

Sick leave can be used for the employee's or a family member’s illness or injury, their diagnosis, care, treatment, or preventive care. It also covers situations related to domestic violence and to aid or care for the employee’s, a family member’s, or a designated person’s guide dog, signal dog, or service dog as defined by the California Disabled Persons Act.

The City of Emeryville vs. California:

Emeryville's law differs notably from California's state law in employee eligibility. Unlike the state requirement of 30 days of work within a year, Emeryville requires only 2 hours of work per week within the city for eligibility. This makes Emeryville's law more inclusive, especially for those working fewer hours.

Other distinctions include the frontloading option, employer size-based caps, and specific provisions for guide and service dogs.

 

Paid Sick Leave Law in Los Angeles, CA (City)

Effective date:

The law took effect on July 1, 2016, for most employers. For employers with 25 or fewer employees, it took effect on July 1, 2017.

Employee eligibility:

Nonexempt employees who work in the city of Los Angeles for 30 or more days within a year from the start of employment and work at least 2 hours a week in the city are eligible. This applies regardless of the employer's location.

Note: This law does not apply to exempt employees, though California state sick leave does.

Allocation requirements:

Accrual

Employees accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked in the city of Los Angeles. Accrual begins on the law’s effective date or the employee’s first day of employment, whichever is later.

Accrual caps

Employers may cap paid sick leave accrual at 72 hours.

Frontloading

Employers have the option to provide a frontloaded lump sum of 48 hours of paid sick leave at the beginning of the benefit year.

Usage requirements:

Employees must be allowed to use their paid sick leave no later than their 90th calendar day of employment.

Usage caps

Employers may cap the use of paid sick leave at 48 hours per benefit year.

Carryover conditions

Accrued but unused paid sick leave, including unused frontloaded sick leave, carries over year to year, up to a maximum of 72 hours.

Permissible uses

Sick leave can be used for the diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition or preventive care for the employee or their family member. It also covers reasons related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

The City of Los Angeles vs. California:

Los Angeles' paid sick leave law differs from statewide requirements in its approach to nonexempt vs. exempt employees. Also, the city's law offers higher accrual and usage caps compared to the state's standard.

These differences make Los Angeles' law more specific and potentially more generous in certain aspects so employers need to be careful when maneuvering leave requirements under the jurisdiction of the city of Los Angeles.

The California Employer’s Guide to New Laws LC 1

Paid Sick Leave in Oakland, CA

Effective date:

Oakland's paid sick leave law became effective on March 2, 2015.

Employee eligibility:

Employees who work at least 2 hours per week within Oakland and are entitled to minimum wage under California law are eligible. This applies to employers with one or more employees in Oakland, regardless of the employer's location.

Allocation requirements:

Accrual

Employees accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked in Oakland. Accrual begins on the first day of employment or the effective date of the law, whichever is later.

Accrual caps

The caps on paid sick leave accrual depend on employer size:

  • Small employers (9 or fewer employees) - Cap set at 40 hours.
  • Large employers (10 or more employees) - Cap set at 72 hours.

Frontloading

Oakland does not allow the option to frontload paid sick leave.

Usage requirements:

Employees must be allowed to use their paid sick leave no later than 90 calendar days after employment begins.

Usage caps

There is no cap on the usage of leave. Employees are entitled to use any leave they’ve accrued.

Carryover conditions

Accrued but unused paid sick leave carries over to the next year, up to the applicable accrual cap.

Permissible uses

Sick leave can be used for the employee's or a family member’s illness, injury, or medical condition, including for diagnosis, care, treatment, or preventive care.

The City of Oakland vs. California:

Oakland's paid sick leave law differs from California's state law in several key aspects.

While both laws have a similar accrual rate, Oakland's law has a unique approach to accrual caps based on employer size, with a lower cap for small employers that is less than the state's minimum requirement. Additionally, Oakland's law does not allow frontloading of sick leave, contrasting with the state's allowance for this practice.

The absence of a usage cap in Oakland's law is another notable difference, providing more flexibility for employees to use their accrued leave.

Paid Sick Leave in San Diego, CA

Effective date:

San Diego's paid sick leave law took effect on July 11, 2016.

Employee eligibility:

Employees who work at least 2 hours a week during a year within the city of San Diego and are entitled to minimum wage under California law are eligible. This applies to employers with one or more employees in San Diego, regardless of the employer's location. However, it excludes employees in publicly subsidized summer or short-term youth employment programs, student employees, camp counselors, or program counselors of an “organized camp.”

Allocation requirements:

Accrual

Employees accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked in San Diego. Accrual begins on the law’s effective date or the employee’s first day of employment, whichever is later.

Accrual caps

Employers may cap paid sick leave accrual at 80 hours.

Frontloading

Employers have the option to frontload 40 hours of paid sick leave at the beginning of each benefit year.

Usage requirements:

Employees must be allowed to use their paid sick leave no later than 90 calendar days after employment begins.

Usage caps

Employers may cap the use of leave at 40 hours per year.

Carryover conditions

Accrued but unused paid sick leave carries over from year to year. But, if an employer frontloads sick leave, no carryover is required.

Permissible uses

Sick leave can be used for the employee’s or their family member’s illness, injury, medical condition diagnosis or treatment, or other medical reasons. It also covers situations related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, and when the employee’s place of business is closed due to a public health emergency or they are caring for a child whose school or childcare provider is closed due to a public health emergency.

The City of San Diego vs. California:

San Diego's paid sick leave law aligns with the state law in terms of accrual rate and cap. However, San Diego's law includes specific eligibility exclusions not mentioned in the state law. Additionally, San Diego's law specifically includes greater provisions for public health emergencies and childcare during these times, reflecting its focus on addressing diverse employee needs in exceptional situations.

 

Paid Sick Leave in San Francisco, CA

Effective date:

San Francisco's paid sick leave law was enacted on February 5, 2007, covering both the city and county.

Employee eligibility:

Employees who work at least 56 hours in a year in San Francisco are eligible, regardless of the employer's location. This applies to all employers with one or more employees.

Allocation requirements:

Accrual

Employees accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked in San Francisco, starting from the first day of employment.

Accrual caps

The caps on paid sick leave accrual depend on employer size:

  • Small employers (9 or fewer employees) – Cap set at 40 hours.
  • Large employers (10 or more employees) – Cap set at 72 hours.

Frontloading

Employers may frontload paid sick leave as a lump sum at the beginning of the benefit year. This is treated as an advance, and employees resume accruing sick leave once they have worked enough hours to match the frontloaded amount.

Usage requirements:

Employees must be allowed to use their paid sick leave no later than 90 calendar days after employment begins.

Usage caps

There is no cap on the usage of leave. Employees are entitled to use any leave they’ve accrued.

Carryover conditions

Accrued but unused paid sick leave carries over to the next year, up to the applicable accrual cap. Frontloading does not exempt employers from the carryover requirements.

Permissible uses

Sick leave can be used for the employee’s or their family member’s illness, injury, or health condition, including diagnosis, care, or treatment. It also covers situations related to domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and organ or bone marrow donation.

The City of San Francisco vs. California:

San Francisco's paid sick leave law predates the state law and offers broader coverage in terms of eligibility, requiring only 56 hours of work in a year within the city. The city's law also has different accrual caps based on employer size, with a lower cap for small employers compared to the state's minimum requirement. Unlike the state law, San Francisco's ordinance does not allow employers to avoid carryover requirements through frontloading, ensuring continued availability of sick leave for employees.

These aspects make San Francisco's law more comprehensive and protective of employee rights compared to the statewide law.

Paid Sick Leave in Santa Monica, CA

Effective date:

Santa Monica's paid sick leave law took effect on January 1, 2017.

Employee eligibility:

Employees who work at least 2 hours a week in Santa Monica and are entitled to minimum wage under California law are eligible. This applies to all employers with one or more employees, regardless of the employer's location.

Allocation requirements:

Accrual

Employees accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked in Santa Monica, beginning either on the law’s effective date or the employee’s first day of employment, whichever is later.

Accrual caps

The yearly caps on paid sick leave accrual depend on employer size:

  • Small employers (25 or fewer employees): Cap set at 40 hours.
  • Large employers (26 or more employees): Cap set at 72 hours.

Frontloading

Employers may opt to frontload the employee’s annual sick leave entitlement at the beginning of the benefit year.

Usage requirements:

Employees must be allowed to use their paid sick leave no later than 90 days after employment begins.

Usage caps

There is no cap on the annual use of accrued sick leave. Employees are entitled to use any leave they’ve accrued.

Carryover conditions

Accrued but unused paid sick leave carries over from year to year, subject to the relevant accrual cap based on the employer’s size. If an employer frontloads sick leave, no carryover is required.

Permissible uses

Sick leave can be used for the diagnosis, care, or treatment of an existing health condition or preventive care for the employee or their family member. It also covers reasons related to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking.

The City of Santa Monica vs. California:

While Santa Monica's paid sick leave law aligns with the state law in terms of accrual rate, it differs in several ways.

It has a lower accrual cap for small employers than the state's minimum requirement. It also allows for frontloading of sick leave but does not require carryover if sick leave is frontloaded. Additionally, Santa Monica does not impose an annual usage cap, providing more flexibility for employees to use their accrued leave.

Paid Sick Leave in West Hollywood, CA

Effective date:

West Hollywood's general paid leave law took effect on July 1, 2022. This law covers more than just sick leave, including vacation and personal necessity.

Employee eligibility:

Nonexempt employees who work at least 2 hours in West Hollywood are eligible, regardless of the employer's location. Employers can apply for a temporary waiver to delay compliance with this law.

Allocation requirements:

Accrual

Paid leave accrues at a rate of 0.047 hours for each hour worked in West Hollywood whereas unpaid leave accrues at a rate of 0.039 hours per hour worked.

Accrual caps

Employers may cap the use of paid leave at 96 hours and unpaid leave at 80 hours per year.

Frontloading

Employers may frontload the employee’s annual paid and unpaid leave entitlements at the beginning of the year.

Usage requirements:

Employees are eligible to use accrued leave after 180 days of employment or earlier if  company policies permit. However, paid sick leave must be available to employees by the 90th day of employment.

Usage caps

Employers may cap the use of paid leave at 96 hours and unpaid leave at 80 hours per year.

Carryover conditions

Up to 192 hours of unused paid leave and 80 hours of unpaid leave can carry over from year to year. Frontloading does not eliminate the carryover requirement.

Permissible uses

Employees may use paid leave for sickness, vacation, or personal necessity reasons. Once paid leave is exhausted, unpaid leave can be used for the employee's or their immediate family member’s illness.

The City of West Hollywood vs. California:

West Hollywood's law is broader than California's state sick leave law, covering not just sick leave but also vacation and personal necessity.

The accrual rates and caps are unique, with higher caps for both paid and unpaid leave compared to the state's standard. The law's flexibility in allowing both paid and unpaid leave, along with the generous carryover provisions, make it more comprehensive.

Want more information on all of 2024's most critical compliance updates?

Download our free compliance guide or watch our latest recorded webinar hosted by legal expert, Jason T. Yu, Partner with the law offices of Snell and Wilmer, for a complete breakdown of California's recent regulation changes. 

Take the Next Steps: Simplify Compliance Across California's Complex Legal Landscape

After reading this article, you should be able to answer the following questions:

1. Is your business compliant with California’s statewide paid sick leave requirements?

2. Is your business compliant with applicable local paid sick leave requirements?

3. If you answered “yes” to questions 1 and 2, are you 100% sure?

Here at Combined, our goal is to make certain that you are confident in your compliance policies. And we are here to help – our team of HR experts is ready to assist you so that you never have to question your company’s alignment with even the most complex of regulations.

With that being said, here’s one final question:

Are you ready to put your compliance challenges behind you?

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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.