Paid sick leave compliance and management explained

Implemented in July 2015, California’s mandatory paid sick leave policy requires nearly all employers to provide employees with protected paid sick leave (PSL).

But if you’re still confused about how to comply with the requirements, rest assured, you’re not alone. CDA Practice Support continues to receive daily calls about compliance and employee management issues related to the state law.

Here are the basics for employers.

As a best practice, employers should create a written policy showing compliance with the PSL law. A written policy can help to clearly communicate the practice’s approach to providing the mandatory benefit and should also be used if the employer places any limits on PSL that are allowed within the law, such as a cap on accrual.

All employees who work 30 or more days for a single employer within a 12-month period are eligible for PSL benefits and must satisfy a 90-day employment period before taking any sick leave. The 12-month period can be based on the employee’s anniversary date, the date the law became effective or the calendar year.

Employers have the choice of how to provide leave:

A front-load policy makes the full amount of sick leave for the year available immediately at the beginning of a yearlong period, except for initial hires for whom it must be available for use by the 90th day of employment. The employer must provide at least 24 hours or three days of paid sick leave per year and the full amount of this leave must be available for the employee’s use from the beginning of each 12-month period. With this method, any unused time that remains at the end of the benefit year is forfeited.

An accrual policy is one where employees earn sick leave over time, with the accrued time carrying over in each year of employment. In general terms (and subject to some exceptions),  employees under an accrual plan must earn at least one hour of PSL for each 30 hours of work up to 24 hours. With this method, any unused time that remains at the end of the benefit year is carried over to the next year and may be subject to an allowable cap of 48 hours if the employer establishes a cap policy. Part-time employees who earn at the statutory rate (1/30) can earn less than 24 hours of PSL in a year if their schedules are intermittent, i.e., a registered dental hygienist who works one day a week for eight hours x 52 weeks = 13.86 hours of PSL annually.

With each of these methods, the use of PSL may be limited to three days or 24 hours per year, even if the employee’s accrual bank reflects a greater amount.

An employee can use PSL for the diagnosis, care or treatment of an existing health condition or for preventive care for themselves or a family member. For example, an employee could take PSL for a cold or other sickness, for a sick parent or child or for an annual physical or other preventive care, like a flu shot. Additionally, the time can be taken for specified purposes if you are a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.

An employee can use the full amount of the paid sick days for a qualifying family member. Under California law, family members include the employee’s parent, child, spouse, registered domestic partner, grandparent, grandchild and sibling. Employers should check local ordinances as some  include expanded allowances.

Employers who have an established alternative workweek schedule should provide the benefit equal to the equivalent number of hours of a “regular workday.” For example, a four-day workweek of 10-hour days would provide employees with 30 hours (three days) of PSL per benefit year. The nature of the law is such that when an employee needs to take a PSL day off, they do not suffer a loss of wages.

Steps to compliance

Employers must do several things to comply with the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014.

  1. Develop a written policy and obtain signed acknowledgement from employees.
  2. Display the poster on paid sick leave where employees can read it easily
  3. Provide written notice (Notice to Employee, Labor Code section 2810.5) to employees with sick-leave rights at the time of hire or establishment of new PSL policy
  4. Show how many days of sick leave an employee has available on a pay stub or a document issued the same day as a paycheck
  5. Keep records showing how many hours employees earned and used for three years

Also, seven California cities to date have passed local ordinances that provide greater allowances and eligibility rules that vary from city to city. For example, employers in the city of Santa Monica cannot provide paid sick leave as part of a PTO policy. Paid sick leave must be a distinct amount of time separate from vacation time offered by the employer. Employers should check with city and county governments for local ordinances that apply to their practice.​ (Use CDA Practice Support’s resource to see if your city is affected (requires login).

Paid sick leave FAQ

CDA Practice Support compiled the top three frequently asked questions it receives from members about PSL. Answers are provided here.

1. What do I do if my employee does not specifically request to use paid sick leave?

When an employee calls in sick, you should always ask them, “Will you be using your sick time for this day?” If they say “no,” let them know it will be an unexcused absence. Then you can write them up if they seem to be repeat offenders. Applying PSL without their consent is a violation of the law.

2. Can I require my employees to provide a doctor’s note?

The law suggests that an employer’s request for a doctor’s note or proof of illness may be construed as an attempt to deprive an employee of their mandatory sick leave. You may ask for certification for unscheduled absences in the case of victims of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking. You are, however, free to request a doctor’s note for sick days beyond the three-day minimum or if employees are out for a while on disability.

3. Can I establish a set wage to pay my employees when they’re out sick?

No. Nonexempt (hourly) employees should be paid their regular or normal nonovertime hourly rate for time that was taken as PSL. For an employee paid on a “commission basis,” you would divide the total compensation for the previous 90 days (excluding overtime premium pay) by the total number of nonovertime hours worked in the full pay periods of the prior 90 days of employment.

More answers about sick leave can be found on cda.org/practicesupport or in the Department of Industrial Relations’ FAQ.

Related Items

Then-Gov. Jerry Brown last September signed a bill requiring California employers of five or more employees to provide expanded training on sexual harassment prevention to all of their employees by Jan. 1, 2020. Practically speaking, this means employers will need to complete the mandatory one- or two-hour trainings for employees in 2019 to be compliant by the January 2020 deadline.

All employers in California must meet workplace-posting obligations, which include printing and posting current mandatory notices where employees can see them. Employers should be aware of two required notices updated and released recently by the Employment Development Department and the Department of Fair Employment and Housing, as well as updated notices on transgender rights in the workplace, protection of safety and health on the job and more.

Every employee’s employment life cycle ends eventually, whether due to resignation, retirement, termination or other reason. In the dental office, any employee who separates should do so in a structured and professional manner with minimum disruption to the patients, staff and practice. Still, depending on what triggers an employee’s departure, separation can be an awkward situation for employers to navigate. Such discomfort can be lessened if clear policies and practices are in place.