By Grace Gedye, CalMatters
A bill on its way to Gov. Gavin Newsom would require large employers in California to offer workers up to 80 hours of COVID-related paid sick leave.
But there’s a catch: The bill, which the Legislature passed Monday, doesn’t apply to small employers with 25 or fewer workers. That exemption — which California’s 2021 COVID sick leave law also included — applies to more than 90% of companies in California and leaves at least 1 in 4 workers without access to the new paid leave, according to data from California’s Employment Development Department.
Without additional leave, most workers in California are legally entitled to just three paid sick days. Early in the pandemic, the federal government was reimbursing employers for COVID sick leave, including small employers. But in September 2021, both the state law and the federal reimbursements for additional paid COVID leave lapsed.
“Both state and federal leaders are to blame here for being short-sighted and not anticipating the need for additional paid leave,” said Kristin Schumacher, senior policy analyst for California Budget and Policy Center.
California Department of Public Health guidelines say that workers who are exposed to COVID or test positive should quarantine or isolate for at least five days.
“When people don’t have paid sick days, they will work sick — and that’s a real danger,” said Jenya Cassidy, director of California Work and Family Coalition, which advocates for paid leave policies. This new bill is the product of compromise, she said, and it will wind up helping a lot of workers if it gets signed into law.
But, she said, “obviously if we’re trying to do this for public health and for the health and well-being of workers and their families, then why would anybody be exempted? Nobody should be exempted.”
“This employee threshold was part of finding compromise with employer organizations and legislators concerned about the economic impact of the pandemic on small businesses,” said Senate President Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat, in a statement.
Bad for small business workers
The vast majority of businesses in California have four or fewer employees according to data from California’s Employment Development Department. Workers at smaller companies earn lower wages, on average, than employees at larger firms, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
That’s concerning because nationally, workers with household incomes under $25,000 were 3.5 times as likely to miss a week of work due to COVID-19 compared to workers with household incomes of $100,000 or more, according to analysis from the Economic Policy Institute.
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