California will require businesses to provide workers who are recovering from the coronavirus, or are caring for infected family members, with as much as two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave, under a deal announced on Tuesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom and legislative leaders in the state.
The agreement would reinstate a benefit passed by the state in 2021 that expired at the end of September. It was sought by organized labor as the Omicron variant surged, but employers opposed it, saying the benefit would be prohibitively expensive for them.
The state legislature is expected to fast-track a bill to turn the agreement into law. If it is approved, the paid leave requirement would apply to eligible absences between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 at companies with more than 25 employees. The bill would also restore some business tax credits to help companies absorb the cost of the additional paid time off.
“By extending sick leave to frontline workers with Covid and providing support for California businesses, we can help protect the health of our work force, while also ensuring that businesses and our economy are able to thrive,” Mr. Newsom said in a joint statement with the president pro tem of the State Senate, Toni Atkins, and the speaker of the Assembly, Anthony Rendon.
They added that lawmakers “will continue to work to address additional needs of small businesses through the budget.”
The agreement also calls for funding to bolster coronavirus testing and vaccination in the state and to battle misinformation, they said.
California law requires employers to offer a minimum of three paid sick days a year. When the pandemic hit, the state raised that requirement, exploiting state and federal laws and tax credits to add up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for workers who were infected or were caring for infected relatives.
That expansion was allowed to lapse Sept. 30 after the state reopened, but the advent of new surges in cases prompted calls from labor unions to reinstate it. Businesses struggling with staffing shortages protested that the eligibility threshold for paid time off was too lax, and that giving employees more paid sick leave deterred some from getting vaccinated.
Legislative officials said the new version would, if passed, require employers to offer up to 40 hours of paid sick leave to full-time workers, and extend that by 40 more hours if the worker supplies proof of a positive coronavirus test result. The requirement for part-time workers would be the number of hours the worker typically worked in a week, to start with, and then that same amount again if the worker tests positive.
California labor leaders applauded the agreement.
“U.F.C.W. members have been risking their lives and the lives of their family members” by reporting for work during the pandemic, Andrea Zinder, president of the Western States Council of the United Food and Commercial Workers, said in a statement.
Rheannon Ramos, a grocery store worker at Stater Bros. in Southern California, added that “the past two years have been filled with new stress after new stress, and today’s announcement means a real relief from shouldering these worries.”
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