Fiona Ma for State Assembly
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California employers must provide sick days under new law

Sacramento -- Millions of Californians will begin earning paid sick days under a bill signed Wednesday by Gov. Jerry Brown that makes the Golden State the second in the nation to require the benefit.

The law takes effect in July and will help 40 percent of the workforce in California, employees largely in retail, fast-food and other service-industry jobs who work full time or part time but who receive no paid sick leave from their employers. Connecticut is the only state that requires employers to provide paid sick time.

"Whether you're a dishwasher in San Diego or a store clerk in Oakland, this bill frees you of having to choose between your family's health and your job," Brown said in a statement after signing the bill at the Ronald Reagan State Building in Los Angeles.

The Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014, by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, comes eight years after San Francisco voters approved a 2006 measure requiring employers to provide paid sick time to workers. Lawmakers said the benefit has remained out of reach for many others across the state.

Still, San Francisco's law is stronger than the state's, which lets employers limit accrued sick days to three a year.

Under the law, for every 30 hours worked, employees would accrue one hour of paid sick leave, which can be used to care for themselves or a family member.

In San Francisco, workers accrue sick leave at the same rate, but the minimum cap is five days to nine days depending on the size of the company.

"This is a good first step," said former Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco, who introduced several bills while in the Legislature to take San Francisco's sick leave requirements statewide.

For years, such efforts have been supported by labor unions, but opposed by business groups.

"I always said we are not robots, we get sick, our family members get sick, and it's unconscionable that people lose their jobs" because of this, Ma said.

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco praised state lawmakers, saying sick leave benefits everyone by lowering health care costs, reducing employee turnover and preventing the spread of illnesses.

"In order to jump-start the middle class, Congress must now follow California's lead and guarantee paid sick leave for workers across the entire country," Pelosi said in a statement.

The law requires workers to be employed 90 days before using accrued sick leave. To qualify, employees would have to work 30 or more days in a year.

AB1522 nearly stalled late in the legislative session after Brown indicated he would not sign the bill unless in-home care workers were excluded from the provision due to the cost to the state.

Gonzalez said her first bill next year will be to extend sick pay to in-home workers. California unions pledged to continue to fight for caregivers to be included in the law.

"This is a historic day - 6.5 million workers across the state will benefit directly from this law," said Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation. "This is a huge step forward. But, we won't rest until every worker in the state of California has the opportunity to earn sick days off."

The National Federation of Independent Business criticized the new law, saying small-business owners are already facing increased costs, such as from the rising minimum wage. John Kabateck, the group's California executive director, said the state also sets a poor example by exempting in-home care workers, who are public employees, while requiring all private sector employers in the state to comply.

"That's outrageous," Kabateck said. "It's a classic example of double standards and hypocrisy in Sacramento."

Melody Gutierrez is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. E-mail:mgutierrez@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @MelodyGutierrez