Fiona Ma for State Assembly

California employers would be forced to offer sick time under proposed bill

California could become the first state in the nation to require paid sick leave for all workers under a bill introduced last week by Assemblywoman Fiona Ma (D-San Francisco).

"Nobody wins when workers show up to work sick," Ma said. "The lack of paid sick days is a public health concern. It harms children and families and decreases productivity at work."

Ma, who is running for the position of Assembly Speaker, plans to showcase the bill at a San Francisco press conference today. Its political prospects are iffy, and even Ma concedes the bill will difficult to pass.

Ma's bill, AB2716, would extend paid sick leave to any employee who works for seven or more days each year. Employees would "earn" sick time at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked. Sick time would carry over from year to year, but medium-to-large employers could limit annual paid sick days to nine days, small employers to five days.

Sick leave also could be used to care for a sick family member or to recover from domestic violence or sexual assault. Employers who flout the law could face fines of up to $250 per incident.

There are no exemptions for small business. Even people who employ housecleaners, nannies or other caregivers in their homes would be required to offer paid sick leave, although a spokesman for Ma conceded that it would be difficult for state regulators to enforce sanctions against them.

The bill is modeled after a San Francisco law that requires the city's employers to offer paid sick leave. The law, the first of its kind in the nation, went into effect last February. Eleven other states, the city of Milwaukee and the District of Columbia are reportedly considering paid sick leave laws, and Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama both support the idea.

Supporters of AB2716 say that six million California workers do not receive paid sick leave, about 40 percent of the state's workforce. Nationally, about 66 million American workers do not get sick leave, about 54 percent of the U.S. workforce, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Labor, health and work-family groups support paid sick leave, but some business interests oppose it, citing cost concerns. Employers may choose to offer paid sick leave as an employee benefit, like health insurance, but it's not required by law.

The California Chamber of Commerce and the California Restaurant Association have not taken positions on Ma's bill. But the National Restaurant Association publicly opposes the concept of requiring paid sick leave, decrying a "one-size-fits-all" mandate that they say could force small businesses to lower wages.

Employers who offer sick leave already are required to allow employees to use it to care for family members. Most California workers also are eligible for paid family leave to care for a newborn, adopted child or family member. But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed a number of extensions of paid family leave, such as taking leave to care for a grandchild.