HR Management & Compliance

Sick Leave Benefits: New Law Requires You To Allow Time Off For Sick Family Members; An Analysis Of The New Rules

Governor Gray Davis has just signed new legislation that requires employers to allow workers to use sick leave not only when they are ill, but also to care for a sick child or other family member. The law means many workers can now take paid time off – without being sick themselves – when, for example, their children have minor illnesses requiring absence from school or child care. We’ll explain what the law will require when it goes into effect on January 1, 2000, we provide sample policy language, a leave request form and a sick leave calculator.

Our HR Management & Compliance Report: How To Comply with California and Federal Leave Laws, covers everything you need to know to stay in compliance with both state and federal law in one of the trickiest areas of compliance for even the most experienced HR professional. Learn the rules for pregnancy and parental leaves, medical exams and certifications, intermittent leaves, required notices, and more.

New Sick Leave Rules

Here’s an overview of the new sick leave law:


  1. Employers covered. The law applies to all private, state and municipal employers regardless of how many employees you have. Although the law doesn’t require you to offer sick leave, if you do provide paid time off for illness, you’ll have to comply with the new requirements.


  2. Sick leave when family members are ill. Besides allowing time off for an employee’s own illness or injury, your sick leave policy will now have to cover absences when a worker’s child, parent or spouse is ill. The definition of child and parent includes adopted, foster, step and biological relationships as well as legal guardians and wards. Grand-parents and other relatives are not covered.


  3. One-half of accrued leave. You must permit workers to use at least the amount of sick leave they would accrue and have available during a six-month period. This means that if someone is entitled to accrue 10 days of sick leave a year, up to five days could be used during the year to care for an ill family member. But you don’t have to grant time off if the amount of sick leave the person wants to take has not yet accrued, has already been used up, or is not available to be taken yet because, for example, the worker is still in a “new employee” period. And if an employee’s accrual rate changes during the year, you need to use the person’s new rate when calculating how many days are available for family illness.Benefits provided under insurance, workers’ compensation and unemployment disability, as well as under ERISA employee welfare plans, do not count as sick leave. Also, the new rules should not impact paid time off programs that allow workers to take time off for any purpose.


  4. Same conditions apply. If you place restrictions on a worker’s ability to take sick leave – for example, medical certification for absences longer than three days – you can impose the same restrictions on time off to care for an ill family member.


  5. Impact on family leave. The new sick leave law does not extend the total amount of family leave a worker is entitled to take, even if the person receives sick leave pay during the family leave.


  6. No retaliation. The law specifically prohibits employers from penalizing or discriminating against workers who use sick leave to care for family members and imposes penalties for violations.