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California Gives Pretty Much All Its Workers Paid Sick Days

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Hopefully there will be less of this (Photo by Lisa F. Young via Shutterstock)
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Good news for the 40 percent of Californians who don't have paid sick days: Governor Jerry Brown just signed a bill guaranteeing that almost all of us get three paid sick days a year.Brown came down to Los Angeles to sign the bill into law today, according to City News Service. The bill by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) allows employees to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Sick pay is capped at three days per year and it goes into effect July 2015.

The only exceptions to the rule is in-home health-care aides who offer care to disabled or elderly residents through the state's In-Home Supportive Services program (which often finds itself on the chopping block during rough budget years).

"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. "Make no mistake, California is putting its workers first."

There had been similar though more substantial state bills proposed in the past that offered five or seven sick days, but they didn't make it through the legislature, according to the Los Angeles Times. The last attempt happened in 2011. In the meantime, cities have been at the forefront of the issue: Portland, San Francisco and New York City all have laws requiring employers offer sick pay. Connecticut has a bill, too, with five days (though it's less comprehensive).

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This is good news even for people who have not had to forgo pay to stay home with a sick child—our food supply likely got a little safer. The CDC reports that 53 percent cases of norovirus stem from food handlers who report to work sick (that number is likely higher: in 82 percent of cases, food handlers were a "potential" cause). Most of those cases happen at restaurants, delis and catering services, but sick workers can contaminate the food at grocery stores, too.

Not everyone is happy with the new law. Unions and Democrats weren't happy that home health care workers were left out in the cold. Brown offered up the last-minute amendment to the bill, which very narrowly passed, according to the Sacramento Bee. Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said on the night of the vote: “This is B.S.”

The bill faced heavier opposition from Republicans and business groups who said that the requirement would be a burden for employers. Assemblyman Donald Wagner, R-Irvine, called it "ill-considered" and "heavy-handed."

If Connecticut's experience with the law is any indication, those fears are unfounded. A survey of employers in the state reported that virtually no one reduced wages, very few reduced hours (10 percent) and most businesses didn't raise prices (85 percent kept prices the same). And there were benefits: 30 percent saw morale improve, nearly 15 percent saw productivity improve and 15 percent reported that sickness. One grocer who lobbied against the bill admitted that it hadn't been the disaster he expected: "It doesn’t even hit the radar screen." Three quarters of employers there supported the new law a year and a half after it passed, and forty percent were "very supportive."