Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday he signed a bill increasing the number of required paid sick leave days for California workers to five days, from the current three-day requirement.
“Too many folks are still having to choose between skipping a day’s pay and taking care of themselves or their family members when they get sick,” he said in a statement. “We’re making it known that the health and wellbeing of workers and their families is of the utmost importance for California’s future.”
SB 616, authored by Long Beach Democrat Lena Gonzalez, increases the number of paid sick days employers must provide to workers from three to five, starting in 2024. Proponents originally sought seven days, but it was reduced in the appropriations suspense file. The bill also extends protections against retaliation to workers who are in a union, but excludes provisions that would have granted railroad employees access to unpaid sick leave.
Advocacy groups for families and women and dozens of unions supported the increase. The California Work & Family Coalition calls the bill “a commonsense change…ensuring that California workers do not have to choose between their health and paying the bills.”
Ingrid Vilorio, a Jack in the Box worker, in a statement: “Now, workers will no longer have to worry about how to make the month’s rent or how to keep food on the table while recovering from illness or caring for a loved one.”
The California Budget & Policy Center points out that the state’s sick leave is less generous than in several other states. The bill is one of several measures this legislative session aimed at improving work-life balance.
Trade associations representing various industries such as the California Grocers Association and California Hotel & Lodging Association, as well as chamber of commerce groups throughout the state opposed the bill. They argue that many small businesses have not recovered from the pandemic and are now dealing with inflation.
The California Chamber of Commerce has the bill on its “job killer” list and urged the governor to veto it.
The Chamber, in a statement: “Our concern is that far too many small employers simply cannot absorb this new cost, especially when viewed in context of all of California’s other leaves and paid benefits, and they will have to reduce jobs, cut wages, or raise consumer prices to deal with this mandate.”
There’s no federal law that requires employers to give workers paid sick leave. California became the second state in the nation to adopt a paid sick leave policy in 2014, but now provides less time than 15 states and many of its own cities, including San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley.
This isn’t the first time an expansion has been introduced, but the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the need for more paid sick days. In March 2021, a new law required larger employers to provide as many as 10 more days for quarantines or vaccine side effects. But that benefit went away, along with federal tax credits that paid for it, six months later.
Sameea Kamal is a reporter with CalMatters.