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Workers Get More COVID-19 Sick Time Under Bill Signed By Newsom

Andrew Nixon

Millions of workers in California will be eligible for more paid sick leave for COVID-19-related matters under a bill signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom late Friday.

The measure requires companies with 25 or more employees to provide up to two weeks of paid sick time.Workers can use the time to quarantine if they have been exposed to the coronavirus, schedule a vaccine, care for a sick family member, or take care of a child whose school or daycare is closed.

“Paid sick leave gives workers the time they need to care for themselves and loved ones while keeping their coworkers, families and communities safe,” Newsom said. “Even as case rates and hospitalizations decline and vaccinations ramp up, we can’t let our guard down and must do all we can to stop this virus from spreading.”

Companies will be reimbursed through a federal payroll tax credit that equals $511 per employee per sick day. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees are not required to provide the sick leave but may still qualify for the tax credits if they do.

The measure is retroactive from the beginning of January and expires September 30.

“The absolutely best way to contain the spread beyond wearing masks as we are and keeping our distance is to ensure that people who have COVID or who are asymptomatic with COVID are not going to work,” said Sen. Nancy Skinner (D–Berkeley).

State lawmakers approved similar emergency sick leave rules last year to cover workers who were not eligible for expanded sick leave under a federal coronavirus package, but they expired at the end of December.

Labor unions cheered the measure, but business groups and many Republican state lawmakers argued the rules are too onerous for already-struggling businesses. Since the bill is retroactive to January 1, some businesses may need to pay employees for sick time already taken.

“This is a horrible, horrible piece of legislation when you look at it from on the ground,” said Sen. Shannon Grove (R–Bakersfield). “Yes, we need to make sure that employees are taken care of, especially during the pandemic… but this bill is not the answer.”

Grove said companies would be stuck with the bill paying for paid time off for their workers. But Skinner, who chairs the Senate Budget Committee, insisted the  tax rebate of up to $511 per employee per sick day would cover all employees at qualifying companies.

Irvine Democrat Dave Min said he was “torn” on the issue.

“To add on more burdens to small businesses is another big blow right now,” he said. “On the other hand, it is good policy. We don’t want sick workers coming into work or facing that tough decision between missing a paycheck or losing their jobs.”