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Employers Beware: New Local Paid Sick Leave Ordinances Complicate Compliance

With the passage of the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, California became the second state (after Connecticut) to mandate that employers provide eligible employees with a minimal level of paid sick leave. See Lab C §§245–249, 2810.5. Since that time, only a handful of states (Arizona, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, Washington) and the District of Columbia have enacted paid sick leave laws.

Before California mandated paid sick leave state-wide, the only city to do so was San Francisco, which passed an ordinance requiring it in 2007. In the last several years, however, more cities have passed paid sick leave ordinances: Berkeley, Emeryville, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, and Santa Monica. These ordinances contain many similar provisions, but also differ from one another in key areas. Employers with employees working in any of these cities must ensure compliance with state law and with any applicable local ordinance. Below are some highlights of these new ordinances.

COVERED EMPLOYERS: The ordinances generally cover all types of employers. None exempt smaller employers entirely from the obligation to provide paid sick leave, although Emeryville provides a reduced leave obligation for smaller employers, Los Angeles provides a later effective date, and Oakland, San Francisco, and Santa Monica provide a lower permissible cap on paid sick leave accrual.

COVERED EMPLOYEES: A basic requirement for employee coverage under most of the ordinances is that the employee works at least 2 hours within the geographic boundaries of the city in a week and qualifies as an employee entitled to payment of a minimum wage under the Labor Code and Industrial Welfare Commission Wage Orders.

ACCRUAL RATE: Most of the ordinances require that an employer provide no less than 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Emeryville, Los Angeles, San Diego, and San Francisco also allow employers to “front load” sick leave by providing the full amount to employees at the beginning of each calendar year or some other 12-month period.

ACCRUAL CAP: The ordinances require employers to provide varying minimum levels of paid sick leave each year. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Berkeley: at least 48 hours for all employers
  • Emeryville: at least 48 hours for small employers and at least 72 hours for large employers
  • Los Angeles: at least 72 hours for all employers
  • Oakland and San Francisco: at least 40 hours for small employers and at least 72 hours for large employers
  • San Diego: at least 80 hours for all employers
  • Santa Monica: at least 32 hours in 2017 and at least 40 hours thereafter for small employers, and at least 40 hours in 2017 and at least 72 hours thereafter for large employers

USE CAP: Although employees accrue a set amount of paid sick leave each year, several ordinances allow employers to limit the amount that employees may use. For example, eligible employees in Los Angeles will accrue at least 72 hours each year, but an employer may limit employees’ use of that accrued leave to 48 hours per year. And San Diego employers may limit employees’ use of paid sick leave to 40 hours per year although employees accrue at least 80 hours in that time.

PERMISSIBLE USES OF PAID SICK LEAVE: The ordinances all allow employees to use paid sick leave for their own illness or injury, or to receive medical care, treatment, or diagnosis. They also allow employees to take time off to care for "family members," which usually includes a spouse or registered domestic partner, child, parent, sibling, grandparent, or grandchild. And in cases in which an employee does not have a spouse or registered domestic partner, several ordinances permit the employee to designated a person as to whom he or she may use paid sick leave.


For all of the details on these new paid sick leave ordinances, check out the upcoming update of CEB’s Employee Leave Laws: Compliance and Litigation.