Raising the Floor: A Review of Paid Sick Days Laws for California

by Sarah Crow, Rey Fuentes, & Madelyn Gardner, Next Generation | Strong Families & Early Learning

Approximately 5 million Californians lack paid sick days protection. For these employees, life is a delicate balancing act – when, inevitably, they become ill, they can either go to work while battling illness, or they can choose to stay home and lose out on a day’s pay. Sometimes, the decision to stay home can cost them their jobs. And if these workers are parents or family caregivers, the choices are harder still.

Access to paid sick days has increased 10 percent among private-sector employees in the last two decades, yet only 65 percent of working Americans can take days off for illness. Access to this leave is uneven: those least likely to have paid sick days are those employed by the food service and personal care industries. The people who are disproportionately represented in those industries – Hispanics, women, and low-wage or part-time employees – are less likely than other groups to receive paid sick days.

There is overwhelming popular support for laws that guarantee a certain number of paid sick days for all employees. Moreover, research suggests that sick day laws may improve productivity, protect vulnerable employees in low-income industries, and support public health by preventing the spread of contagious illnesses. 

Based on this evidence, seven local jurisdictions and one state have implemented paid sick day laws. With the introduction of the “Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act” (AB 1522, Gonzalez), California is in a unique position to become a national leader on paid sick days. The legislation would provide a basic level of three paid sick days per year to nearly every working Californian, without risking employment or income.