All Californians deserve to be able to care for themselves or their loved ones when they are ill. While California is set to become the world’s fourth-largest economy, the state lags behind when comparing paid sick leave laws across the US (see Table). As a result, many California workers face the impossible decision of going to work while sick or losing their paycheck.
In California, state law mandates that eligible workers can earn up to 24 hours of paid sick leave, depending on how many hours they work. Employers may provide workers with more paid sick time. However, workers with low wages — who are disproportionately women and people of color — are far less likely to have additional employer-provided time off. This means many workers have just three days of paid sick leave for an entire year.
How are workers left behind in California?
Left behind: A father works as a janitor and has a daughter who gets the flu. He needs to stay home and care for her. He has earned the maximum amount of paid sick leave mandated by his state, but his employer doesn’t provide any further leave.
- In California, he uses up his 24 hours to care for his daughter because she needs to stay home from school for three days. He is now left with zero paid sick leave for the remainder of the year.
- In Colorado, he has 48 hours of paid sick leave. He uses 24 of those hours to care for his daughter, and has 24 hours left for other illnesses that arise.
Left behind: A grocery store cashier tests positive for COVID-19. She needs to stay home for at least five days. While she worked enough hours to accumulate the maximum amount of leave provided by her state, her employer does not provide additional leave.
- In California, she uses up her 24 hours in the first three days — leaving her with no sick leave for the rest of the year — and must stay home for two more days, unpaid. She wants to stay home for more than five days to fully recover, but that would mean going even longer without pay or working while sick.
- In New Mexico, she has 64 hours of paid sick leave. She uses 40 hours for her isolation period, and still has 24 hours remaining to further recover.
COVID-19 demonstrated the critical importance of paid sick leave. Unfortunately, the supplemental paid sick leave put in place during the early days of the pandemic has expired. Workers need more paid time off when they or their family members are sick. It’s time for California to catch up to the states that are leading on this issue.
Paid Sick Leave Policies in Effect in the US, 2023
|How Many Hours Employees Must Be Allowed to Earn*
|Applies to Which Employers?
|No cap: 1 hour earned for every 40 hours worked
|40 or 56 hours
|Employers with < 100 workers (40 hours)***
Employers with 100+ workers (56 hours)
|Employers with 10+ workers
|Employers with 11+ workers
|24 or 40 hours
|Employers with < 15 workers (24 hours)
Employers with 15+ workers (40 hours)
|Employers with 15+ workers
|Employers with 18+ workers
|Employers with 50+ workers
|Employers with 50+ workers
|3, 5, or 7 days
|Employers with < 25 workers (3 days)
Employers with 25-99 workers (5 days)
Employers with 100+ workers (7 days)
* Employers may choose to provide more paid sick leave than required by state law, but these laws establish a minimum requirement that workers can earn.
** This will go into effect on January 1, 2024.
*** For employers with 4 or fewer workers, the requirement to provide at least 40 hours of paid sick leave applies only if the employer’s annual net income exceeded $1 million in the previous tax year.
Source: Data from A Better Balance and Budget Center analysis of state paid sick leave laws