California Expands Coverage for COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave

On March 19, 2021, California Governor Gavin Newson signed Senate Bill 95, requiring California employers with more than 25 employees to provide their employees with Supplemental Paid Sick Leave (SPSL) for various COVID-related absences. Coverage under this new legislation is far more expansive than last year’s California COVID-19 SPSL statute, which expired on December 31, 2020.

Below are the top five issues employers need to know about the 2021 COVID-19 SPSL legislation:

1. Qualifying coverage expanded.

Employers must grant SPSL immediately upon oral or written request if an employee is unable to work or telework for any of the following reasons:

  • COVID-19 Related Self-Care. The employee is subject to a quarantine or isolation period related to COVID-19, has been advised by a healthcare provider to self‑quarantine due to concerns related to COVID-19, or is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis.
  • Vaccine Related Self-Care. The employee is attending an appointment to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or is experiencing symptoms related to a COVID-19 vaccine that prevents the employee from being able to work or telework.
  • COVID-19 Family Care. The employee is caring for a family member who is subject to a quarantine or isolation order or guideline or who has been advised to self-quarantine by a health care provider due to concerns related to COVID-19, or the employee is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed or unavailable for reasons related to COVID-19 on the premises.

While an employer cannot condition SPSL on an employee obtaining a medical certification, in some circumstances, employers may be able to request documentation before paying for SPSL if the employer has information indicating that the employee is not requesting SPSL for a valid purpose.

2. The law applies retroactively.

SB 95 began on March 29, 2021, but it applies retroactively to January 1, 2021. In other words, employers may have to reimburse employees for sick leave they have already taken for a qualifying reason. Employees seeking reimbursement for such leave must make an oral or written request to their employer for reimbursement. Upon request, employers must then issue payment on or before the payday for the next pay period. Any retroactive SPSL counts toward the employee’s 2021 SPSL entitlement. SB 95 remains effective through September 30, 2021.

3. Full-time employees get up to 80 hours of leave, while part-time employees get leave based on their average hours worked.

Employees receive 80 hours if either their employer considers them to work full time or, on average, they worked or were scheduled to work on average 40+ hours per week in the two weeks before leave is taken. The California Labor Commissioner provides guidance on calculating leave entitlements for part-time employees based on their length of service here.

The obligation to provide SPSL is in addition to other leaves already required by California law, such as paid sick leave. Additionally, COVID‑related sick leave provided pursuant to last year’s SPSL does not count toward leave amounts required in 2021 for SPSL. 

4. The pay rate calculation for SPSL differs from last year’s standard.

Under this new legislation, non-exempt, covered employees must be compensated at the highest of the following pay rates (subject to a cap):

  • calculated in the same manner of the regular rate of pay for the workweek in which the covered employee uses COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave, whether or not the employee actually works overtime in that workweek;
  • calculated by dividing the covered employee’s total wages, not including overtime premium pay, by the employee’s total hours worked in the full pay periods of the prior 90 days of employment;
  • the state minimum wage; or
  • the local minimum wage.

Employers are not required to pay more than $511 per day and $5,110 in the aggregate to a covered employee under the new statute. 

5. There are notice posting and wage statement requirements.

Starting March 29, 2021, employers must conspicuously display in their workplaces the model notice provided by the California Department of Industrial Relations. If employees are not frequently present at the employer’s offices, employers can send the notice via email.

Like the 2020 SPSL standards, the SB 95 requires employers to list SPSL on the paystub for employees as a separate line item, separate and apart from regular California paid sick leave. 

Additionally, for part-time employees who do not have a regularly set schedule, employers may meet their paystub obligations by calculating SPSL available and indicating “(variable)” next to that calculation, which employers will need to update when employees request to use SPSL. The paystub related requirements are not enforceable until the employer’s next full pay period following the legislation’s effective date, March 29, 2021.

Looking Ahead

California employers with more than 25 employees nationwide should immediately review their policies, practices, and payroll records to ensure proper implementation of and compliance with the new SPSL obligations. Because the new legislation does not preempt local ordinances, employers may also want to consider how these SPSL obligations interact with any local ordinances.

For more insights and information about Coronavirus (COVID-19) preparedness, please visit our Employment + Labor Resources page and our Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resource Center.