San Francisco Orders Large Employers to Provide Paid Sick Leave During COVID-19 Pandemic
On March 18, the Families First Coronavirus Act became federal law. This Act required certain employers to offer “emergency paid sick leave” to eligible employees unable to work, either remotely or in-person, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. But the Act only applied to smaller businesses. Employers with more than 500 employees were exempted from the paid sick leave mandate.
Some California cities subsequently stepped in to fill this gap in coverage. For example, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors adopted the Public Health Emergency Leave Ordinance (PHELO) on April 17. The Board said it acted expressly to address the “emergency paid leave coverage gap” created by the federal Act. To that end, the PHELO requires “private employers with 500 or more employees” to provide paid sick leave during the COVID-19 emergency.
What S.F. Employees Are Eligible for Paid Leave?
San Francisco Mayor London Breed formally declared a state of emergency in the City on February 25. On March 16, the City’s Local Health Officer issued a “shelter in place” order. This order requires all San Francisco residents to “stay in their homes” until at least May 3. Businesses were also directed to “cease all non-essential operations at physical locations in the City.” Businesses are permitted to continue operations through teleworking.
The PHELO requires employers with more than 500 employees to offer paid sick leave to any employee who was working for the employer as of February 25, the date Mayor Breed declared the state of emergency. Full-time employees are entitled to up to 80 hours of leave, or two full workweeks. Part-time employees are entitled to leave equal to the average number of hours they were scheduled to work over a 2-week period in the 6 months prior to the February 25 emergency declaration.
Leave itself may be used if the employee is “unable to work,” including any teleworking arrangement, under any of the following conditions:
- The employee is subject to a quarantine or isolation order issued by any governmental authority, or has been advised by a medical professional to self-quarantine.
- The employee is currently showing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking a formal medical diagnosis.
- The employee is caring for a family member who has COVID-19, is experiencing symptoms, or is otherwise subject to a quarantine or isolation order.
- The employee is caring for a child or other family member due to the closure of the schools or the unavailability of a care provider.
How Much Leave Can Employees Receive?
An employee who qualifies is entitled to public health emergency leave at the same rate that is currently required by San Francisco’s Paid Sick Leave Ordinance. Employees who are not exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act must therefore receive emergency leave equal to their regular rate of pay (excluding any overtime pay). The employer may also elect to calculate leave by dividing the employee’s total non-overtime wages by the total number of hours worked in the past 90 days.
If you have further questions about how the San Francisco ordinance, or any other emergency legislation related to COVID-19, may affect your rights in the workplace, please contact a qualified California employment law attorney as soon as possible.