With the number of confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) rising in California, the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR) and the Employment Development Department (EDD) have issued guidance and reminders on use of paid sick leave and other benefits for those forced off the job by COVID-19. The San Francisco Office of Labor Standards Enforcement (OLSE) has also rolled out guidance for employees in San Francisco on use of paid sick leave under the city’s law.

All California employers are required to provide paid sick leave and to allow workers to use at least 24 hours or three days per year of accrued sick leave time. (Time is accrued at a rate of one hour per 30 hours worked.) Numerous municipalities allow employees to use even more time (e.g., 48 hours per year in Los Angeles; no cap in San Francisco).

The DIR advises that employees must be permitted to use paid sick leave for their illness, that of a family member, or quarantine (as recommended by civil authorities) due to COVID-19. The issued guidance suggests, however, that paid sick leave may not be used by employees who choose to self-quarantine without the recommendation of civil authorities. San Francisco employees, on the other hand, are additionally permitted to take paid sick leave if recommended to do by healthcare providers or if the employee is part of a “vulnerable population ” (i.e., individuals aged 60 and older as well as individuals with heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, kidney disease, or a weakened immune system).

While employees must be allowed to use paid sick leave if they qualify, employers may not require them to use their accrued leave if they would prefer not to use the time.

Affected employees may have access to some other wage replacements if they exhaust their paid sick leave or are unable to work after having been exposed to COVID-19. If the employee is ill or unable to work, he or she may be eligible for short-term disability insurance, which is administered by the EDD. If the employee exhausts paid sick leave or decides not to use it to care for a sick family member affected by COVID-19, he or she can apply for paid family leave, which is a partial wage replacement administered by the EDD. In either case, the illness and/or need for quarantine must be certified by medical professional.

California law already protects employees against retaliation for use of paid sick leave or family leave, but with a state of emergency declared for COVID-19 in California, lawmakers may be looking at additional protections. Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez recently announced that she introduced a bill (Assembly Bill 3123) which would seek to expand the use of sick leave for when workers are unable to work during public health emergencies, even if the business is closed, and not be retaliated against for using sick leave in such a manner.

As the situation regarding COVID-19 is constantly developing, please contact the authors of this article or other Hogan Lovells employment attorneys with whom you regularly work for additional information.