Thanks to Senate Bill 616, starting January 1, California workers will now be guaranteed five paid sick days per year—up from the three days employers in California are currently required to provide. Long Beach Democratic Sen. Lena Gonzalez authored the bill, which also extends protections against retaliation to workers who are in a union. However, the bill eliminates requirements that would have permitted railroad employees access to unpaid sick leave.
Proponents of the bill, which includes dozens of unions and advocacy groups for women and families, have called the new law a significant but partial victory. These groups were initially calling for seven days of annual paid sick leave, but the final version of the bill reduced the number of days in negotiations during the legislative process.
The law, one of multiple measures in the last session that aimed to improve work-life balance for California workers, is being hailed by the California Work & Family Coalition as “a commonsense change.”
However, various trade associations representing specific industries, such as the California Hotel & Lodging Association, the California Grocers Association, and chamber of commerce groups across the state, have argued against the law. They say the new bill will hurt small businesses that have yet to recover from the pandemic. Many small businesses still struggle to deal with inflation and can’t afford the extra costs of covering sick workers.
The National Federation of Independent Business has the new law listed among its top five “compliance headaches” for small business owners in 2024. The new bill is listed alongside SB 848, which makes it unlawful for any California employer to refuse as many as five days of “reproductive loss leave” for occurrences such as miscarriages, failed adoptions, and other life events. The state Chamber of Commerce included the new law on its “job killer” list, recently issuing guidance to help employers navigate the complexities of the law.
Currently, no federal laws require employers to offer workers paid sick leave. In 2014, California became the second state in the country to have a paid sick leave policy. However, California now provides less time than 15 other states and several of its own cities, including Berkeley, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, and San Francisco.
After signing the bill on October 4, Governor of California, Gavin Newsom said too many people were still stuck having to choose between losing a day’s wages and taking care of their physical health or the health of their families when they get sick. He said, “We’re making it known that the health and well-being of workers and their families is of the utmost importance for California’s future.”
The new law does not mark the first time a sick leave expansion has been brought to the table. However, the COVID-19 pandemic amplified the urgency for it. A law enacted in March 2021 required larger employers to provide up to an additional ten days for quarantines or vaccine side effects. Nevertheless, that specific benefit went away six months later, along with the federal tax credits that paid for it.