SACRAMENTO, California — In a pivotal development for California workers, Senate Bill 616, authored by Long Beach Democratic Sen. Lena Gonzalez, pushed a notable change as it comes into effect on January 1st, 2024. This legislation ensures that employees in the state will enjoy an expanded sick leave of five paid days per year, an increase from the existing mandate of three days. The bill also extends protections against retaliation to workers affiliated with a union.
The legislative victory, though significant, is seen as a compromise by proponents, including advocacy groups for families, women, and various unions. Originally advocating for seven days of paid sick leave, proponents faced negotiations during the legislative process, resulting in the finalized provision of five days.
On the flip side, trade associations representing diverse industries, such as the California Grocers Association and California Hotel & Lodging Association, along with statewide chamber of commerce groups, argue that the law places an undue burden on small businesses. Particularly those still grappling with the aftermath of the pandemic, inflation, and the added financial strain of covering for sick workers.
The state Chamber of Commerce, classifying the sick leave law as a “job killer,” has issued guidance for employers to navigate its complexities. However, Governor Gavin Newsom, upon signing the bill on October 4, emphasized the importance of prioritizing the health and well-being of workers and their families. The new law aims to address the dilemma faced by many individuals who had to choose between missing a day’s pay and attending to their health or family members when sick.
This expansion of sick leave benefits comes in the wake of previous efforts, notably during the COVID-19 pandemic, when a law in March 2021 required larger employers to provide up to 10 additional days for quarantine or vaccine side effects. However, this provision and the associated federal tax credits expired six months later.