California is well renowned as an employee-friendly state thanks to its extensive employee-friendly labor laws. For decades the state trend has been to increase the power of workers in relation to their employers through generous leave laws, generous wage and hour rules, strict meal and rest break requirements, numerous fair scheduling ordinances, and other pro-employee regulations.
Well, California is at it again with the recent passage of two statewide employee leave entitlements covered employers must comply with beginning in 2024. These include Reproductive Loss Leave and Extended Paid Sick Leave. Employers with employees in California should be aware of these two new laws to ensure continued compliance and to avoid liability.
We’ll examine what this legislation means for employees and discuss strategies to help employers ensure they can fully comply with these new standards.
Reproductive Loss Leave
Senate Bill 848, effective January 1, 2024, requires employers with five or more employees to grant workers who have been employed at least 30 days, with five days of leave, for a reproductive loss event. A reproductive loss event includes a failed adoption, failed surrogacy, miscarriage, stillbirth, or an unsuccessful assisted reproduction (e.g., artificial insemination and embryo transfer). The new law also states that if an employee experiences multiple reproductive loss events within 12 months, the employer is not obligated to provide more than 20 days of leave within the 12-month period.
Eligible employees must generally complete reproductive loss leave within three months of the loss event. However, if an employee takes any other leave under state or federal law prior to or immediately after the reproductive loss event, the reproductive loss leave must be completed within 3 months of the other leave ending.
Reproductive loss leave does not have to be used in a single block of time and can be unpaid unless the employer has a policy stating differently. Additionally, employees may choose to substitute any accrued and available sick leave, or other paid time off, for reproductive loss leave.
Paid Sick Leave Expanded
Senate Bill 616 increases the amount of Paid Sick Leave (PSL) all employers, regardless of size, must grant to California employees under the Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act.
Presently, qualified employees must be provided with at least three days or 24 hours of PSL per year (whichever is greater).
Effective January 1, 2024, however, that amount increases to at least five days or 40 hours of leave in a year. Senate Bill 616 specifically preempts any local laws less generous than the newly expanded state paid sick leave requirement.
Standard accrual of PSL remains 1 hour for every 30 hours worked but the yearly cap on accruing PSL increases from six days (or 48 hours) to 10 days (or 80 hours). Alternative accrual methods are valid under the new law as long as the employee accrues no fewer than 24 hours or three days of PSL by their 120th day of employment, and 40 hours or five days by their 200th day of work.
Finally, under Senate Bill 616, employers using paid time off policies to satisfy their PSL obligation must ensure employees receive five days or 40 hours of paid leave within six months of employment (up from the present three days or 24 hours within nine months).
New Compliance Measures for California Employers
What should California employers do to navigate these evolving employee leave entitlements? Here are several key steps that can help ensure compliance with these emerging standards:
- Update Employee Handbooks: Employers should promptly revise their employee handbooks to incorporate the provisions of these new leave entitlements. Providing clear direct language that communicates how and when employees can exercise these new leave standards, as well as how company policies interact with these compliance standards, will help reduce confusion.
- Training: Management personnel, Human Resource (HR) professionals, and other relevant staff should receive comprehensive training to ensure a clear understanding of these new laws.
- Communicate with Legal Counsel: Employers should seek assistance from legal counsel if they have any uncertainties about the application or implications of these leave entitlements.
California’s unwavering dedication to enhancing worker protections and rights is evident through the introduction of these new employee leave entitlements. As these new legislations are set to go into effect at the start of the new year, there is a relatively short window for California Employers to make these changes. However, noncompliance can result in significant costs and is detrimental to both employers and employees.
Employers in the state must remain vigilant in adapting their policies and practices to align with these evolving regulations. On the positive side, meeting these new legal obligations can continue to foster a fair and supportive work environment. Embracing these changes not only ensures compliance but also reflects a commitment to the well-being and rights of the California’s workforce, ultimately benefiting both employees and employers alike.