Although California law does not require employers to provide sick leave benefits to employees,employers (regardless of size) who do provide sick leave benefits are required to permit employees to use a minimum of one-half of any available accrued sick leave per year for the purpose of attending to an ill child, parent, spouse, registered domestic partner or child of the employee’s registered domestic partner.
For the purposes of complying with the law, “sick leave” is defined to include any paid time off plan provided by the employer that grants employees a specified number of days or hours per calendar year.The following benefits, however, are specifically excluded from the definition of sick leave:
Furthermore, the law specifically prohibits employers from discharging, threatening to discharge,demoting, suspending or discriminating against employees, in terms and conditions of employment, for exercising or attempting to exercise their right to use any accrued sick leave available to them.
San Francisco Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance
To address changing demographics in the workplace and the exodus of families from the city, San Francisco became the first municipality to adopt a “right to request” ordinance, formalizing an employee’s ability to request workplace flexibility. The Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance, applies to all employers in San Francisco with 20 or more employees, except as to those employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement expressly waiving these rights.
The ordinance specifies that employees who have worked with an employer for six months and work at least eight hours per week may submit a written request for a flexible or predictable working arrangement to assist with caregiving responsibilities for a child, family members with a serious health condition, or a parent 65 years or older. “Flexible working arrangement” is defined as changes in the employee’s terms and conditions of employment that provide flexibility to assist with caregiving responsibilities and may include, but is not limited to, a modified work schedule, telecommuting, job sharing arrangements or changes or reduction in work duties. “Predictable working arrangement” is defined as a change in theemployee’s terms and conditions of employment that provide scheduling predictability to assist withcaregiving responsibilities. Employees will be permitted to make such requests twice every 12 months,and potentially additional requests if the employee experiences a “major life event” (e.g., defined to include a birth/adoption of a child or an increase in caregiving duties).
The ordinance also outlines very specific procedures an employer must follow after receiving a written request. For instance, it specifies an employer must meet with the employee within twenty one days of thewritten request to discuss the request. The employer must also thereafter consider and respond in writingwithin twenty one days to an employee’s flexibility request, unless the employee agrees in writing toadditional time to respond. An employer who grants the request must confirm this agreement in writing,and an employer who denies the request must explain the bona fide reason for the denial and notify theemployer of their right to request reconsideration and provide a copy of the ordinance provision outliningthis reconsideration process. “Bona fide reason” is defined to include, but is not limited to, the cost of theproposed change, the detrimental effect on customer or client demands, the inability organize workamong other employees, and the insufficiency of work to be performed at the proposed work time.An employee whose request for a flexible or predictable arrangement is denied may submit a written request for reconsideration within 30 days of the decision, which again triggers the employer’s duty to meet with 21 days, and to respond in writing within 21 days of the second meeting.
Once a flexible or predictable arrangement is granted, either the employee or employer may revoke the arrangement by providing fourteen days written notice. However, if either party revokes, the employee may submit a written request for an alternative flexible or predictable arrangement, again triggering the employer’s meeting and written response obligations.
The ordinance further specifies that it shall be unlawful for any employer to interfere with or restrain any of these rights, and to taken any adverse employment action against any person on the basis of “caregiver status” or for exercising rights protected under this Ordinance. The OLSE is authorized to enforce thisordinance, and for the first twelve months shall issue warnings and notices to correct for violations, andthereafter may impose administrative penalties up to $50.00 payable to the employee for each day orportion thereof that the violation occurred or continued. Where prompt corrective action does not occur,the OLSE may undertake further enforcement measures including a civil action (as outlined) andimposing a civil penalty payable to the city for $50.00 for each employee and each day a violation hasoccurred. If the city initiates a civil action, it may seek all available legal or equitable relief, including reinstatement, back pay, reimbursement for all withheld benefits, and liquidated damages of $50.00 per employee for each day, and attorneys’ fees and costs.