California has spent years expanding workers’ rights statewide. While many of the recent changes rightfully receive the spotlight, this can push older but just as important regulations from the public eye. For example, the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act is one of the state’s fundamental workers’ rights laws but has rarely received focused attention since it was enacted in 2015.
This Act is responsible for guaranteeing many California employees paid sick leave. It is one of the broadest paid leave mandates in the nation. Here’s what you should understand about the Act, how it applies to you, and what to do if your employer unjustly tries to deny you leave.
What Is the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act?
The Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families (HWHF) Act is a California law first passed in 2014 requiring all employers, regardless of size, to offer their employees a minimum amount of paid sick leave (PSL) annually. The law was first implemented to give workers guaranteed time to care for themselves or their families each year without sacrificing pay.
PSL is different from time taken under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) or due to workers’ compensation. FMLA leave is unpaid unless the recipient qualifies for Paid Parental Leave. Meanwhile, workers’ compensation allows you to receive disability benefits but not pay on your normal paycheck. Additionally, PSL differs from paid vacation days unless it is included in a broader PTO policy meeting certain requirements.
Your Rights Under the HWHF Act
Under the HWHF Act, employers must offer their employees either 24 hours or three days of paid sick leave per year, whichever is greater. While this is the minimum required under law, employers may offer more.
You are eligible for PSL in California if you have worked for the same employer for at least 30 days in the past year in California. No employers are exempt from this requirement to offer PSL. You must be offered PSL whether you are part-time, full-time, temporary, or salaried.
When possible, you must provide your employer with “reasonable” notice to request PSL. For example, if you know about a doctor’s appointment in advance, you should give your employer several days of notice.
If your employer requires you to work an alternative schedule, meaning something other than a regular eight-hour shift, they are still required to give you the equivalent of three days of paid leave. For example, if you routinely work 12-hour shifts three days a week, your employer must grant you at least 36 hours of time total.
This leave can be used to recover if you are sick, to attend medical appointments, or to care for a sick family member. Time taken under the HWHF Act is protected, so it may not be used to make adverse employment decisions about workers. For instance, your employer cannot fire, demote, refuse to promote, cut hours, or reduce your working conditions because you take PSL. Additionally, if your employer has an absence policy, the first three days or 24 hours of PSL you take in a given year may not count toward absence-based penalties.
Your employer can choose from several ways to offer you PSL, including:
- Statutory Mandated Accrual: Your employer can award you one hour of paid sick leave per 30 hours worked, including overtime, beginning the day you begin work. This must continue to accrue up to 24 hours total in a year. Employers may but do not need to cap paid time off at 24 hours. Accrued time must roll over to the next year if it is not taken. However, employers may also restrict the total amount of leave that rolls over to 48 hours or six days.
- Optional Accrual: Businesses may use other accrual methods to calculate PSL as long as these methods lead to regular time accrual and ensure employees have accrued at least 24 hours of sick leave by the 120th calendar day of the year. This must also permit unused hours to roll over.
- Lump-Sum: Companies may offer workers “lump-sum” PSL, providing all workers with a set amount of sick leave at the start of the year. These lump-sum policies do not need to permit hours to roll over to the next year.
Any of these programs can also be combined with other forms of PTO as long as they permit workers to take the requisite time off for health needs.
Can Your Employer Deny You Sick Leave?
Your employer must grant you PSL upon your written or verbal request. More importantly, your employer should not demand a doctor’s note for the first three days or 24 hours of sick time you request in a year. It may not ask for further details about your health or that of your family, either. In other words, if you are eligible for PSL, your employer cannot deny you the time you have accrued, with limited exceptions.
First, your employer does not need to permit you to take more than your total accrued paid time off per year. If you need additional time to recover, attend medical appointments, or care for sick family, you may request unpaid FMLA time instead.
Additionally, companies may prevent workers from taking paid sick leave in the first 90 days of their employment. If your employer has this policy, you are not eligible to request or receive PSL until the 91st calendar day of your employment. Any sick leave you need during this time is not protected.
Outside these two scenarios, your employer must grant you PSL upon request, up to what you have accrued. If you are denied this leave or face retaliation for taking time off to care for yourself or your family, you can take legal action. If you believe you have been illegally denied PSL or suffered retaliation from your employer for taking it, you should contact the skilled attorneys at the San Francisco employment law firm Le Clerc & Le Clerc LLP. Our team has years of experience representing employees who have experienced illegal rights violations in California. Learn more about how we can assist you by scheduling your consultation today.