Workers need paid time off during a pandemic to abide by public health guidelines, stop the spread of illness, and care for family members. California’s temporary COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave – approved by the state Legislature – is an important public health tool that provides workers with up to 80 hours of paid time off to care for their health or family members’ health.1 Unfortunately, COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave ends September 30, 2021, even though community transmission of the virus remains high in many counties across the state. Policymakers can take urgent action to renew COVID supplemental sick leave to support California workers and families, keep communities healthy and safe, and ensure local economies can continue to recover from the pandemic.
Under the state’s standard paid sick days law, many workers in California have access to just 24 hours of paid time off per year. Three days of paid time off does not provide enough time for workers to adhere to current state and federal pandemic guidelines without fear of losing wages or even their jobs. Moreover, California’s standard paid sick time does not allow enough time for working parents to take time off from work when unvaccinated children are sent home from school or child care after a COVID-19 exposure or when they are experiencing virus symptoms. COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave has been vital for workers who become sick, need to get the vaccine, or when children have to remain home from school or child care due to pandemic-related disruptions in child care.
Overall, more than 1 in 5 adults in California lived in households with children that experienced a disruption in child care due to the pandemic (22%) this past spring and early summer. Californians of color were far more likely to experience disruptions in care, with 25% of adults of color living in households with children who were unable to attend child care due to the pandemic, as compared to 16% of white Californians. Women and Californians with low incomes were also more likely to live in households experiencing pandemic-related disruptions in child care compared to other California households with children.
Even with COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave, 26% of adults in households with a disruption in care took unpaid time off to care for children who were unable to attend child care. Similarly, 18% of adults in households with children either left their job or were fired from their job because of a disruption in care.
Without COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave, California will lose an important tool to promote public health and safeguard workers’ economic security. State policymakers should maintain the state’s COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave for the duration of the pandemic, with workers’ bank of paid time off replenishing on October 1, 2021. This is especially critical for workers with low wages and part-time workers – disproportionately women and Californians of color – who are far less likely to have employer-provided leave benefits that assist with families’ health, economic, and emotional well-being. Workers must be able to stay home when they are ill, getting vaccines, or experiencing COVID-19-related disruptions in child care. After the pandemic, policymakers should require employers to provide additional paid sick days for workers – beyond 24 hours – to maintain the health of the state’s workforce and economy. Caring for Californians cannot stop now and must continue to promote public health and foster workers’ economic security.