California expands paid COVID-19 sick leave into 2021

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On March 19, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law an extension of paid COVID-19 sick leave. This type of leave is in addition to other types of sick leave generally provided by employers. While the law passed in March, it is retroactive back to January 1, 2021 as of March 29, 2021. We have provided the following Frequently Asked Questions and answers.

Which employers are required to provide paid COVID-19 sick leave?

Public or private employers who have more than 25 employees are required to provide COVID-19 related sick leave from January 1, 2021 to September 30, 2021. Prior legislation only applied to entities with 500 or more employees nationwide.

How much will this cost employers?

Exempt (usually meaning salaried) employees must be paid the same rate of pay as wages calculated for other paid leave.

Nonexempt (usually meaning hourly) employees are to be paid the highest of the following for each hour of paid leave taken:

  1. Regular rate of pay for the week in which leave is taken
  2. State minimum wage
  3. Local minimum wage
  4. Average hourly pay for the past 90 days (not including overtime rates)

Please note that paid COVID-19 sick leave may not exceed $511/day or $5,110 in total for 2021 paid COVID-19 sick leave.

Which employees qualify for paid covid-19 sick leave?

Both full time and part time employees may qualify for paid COVID-19 sick leave. Additionally, employees who “are unable to work or telework” also qualify. The change to include telework is an expansion of the laws passed last year by the California legislature. Independent contractors do not qualify for paid COVID-19 sick leave.

How many hours can an employee receive?

Depending on whether an employee is full or part time, an employee may request up to 80 hours of paid COVID sick leave for the first nine months of 2021. If an employee already took sick leave related to COVID-19 in 2021, that time is included in the maximum 80 hours that may be taken.

For part time employees, the number of hours they may receive depends on the number of hours they work each week. An employee who has a regular weekly schedule may receive up to the same number of hours they normally work over two weeks. If an employee has a variable schedule, he or she may receive 14 times the average number of hours worked per day over the last six months.

It is unclear at this time whether additional hours may be available after September 30, 2021, but if and when California or Congress takes additional action, we will provide you with an update.

How may an employee request paid COVID-19 sick leave?

Employees may request paid COVID-19 sick leave orally or in writing, and employers must immediately grant it to them.

How may an employee request payment for paid COVID-19 sick leave taken prior to the passage of this law?

If an employee took unpaid COVID-19 related sick leave this year prior to March 29, 2021, the employee should make an oral or written request to the employer for payment. After the employee makes the request, an employer has until the payday for the next full pay period to pay the employee for the time previously taken. This type of leave also must be itemized on an employee’s wage statement.

May an employer receive a tax credit for providing paid COVID-19 sick leave?

Yes. Federal law currently provides tax credits for employers with less than 500 employees who provide COVID-19 related paid sick leave voluntarily. More information on the tax credits is available on the Internal Revenue Service FAQs.

How does an employee qualify for paid COVID sick leave?

An employee may request paid COVID sick leave if he or she is unable to work or telework for any of the following reasons:

The employee’s own needs:

The employee...

  1. Is quarantining or isolating due to COVID-19, defined by an order or guidelines from the California Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or a local health officer with jurisdiction over the workplace;
  2. Has been advised by a healthcare provider to quarantine; or
  3. Is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis.

Caring for a family member:

  1. The employee is caring for a family member subject to quarantine or isolation, or is caring for a child whose school or place of care is closed, or otherwise unavailable, due to COVID-19 on the premises.


  1. The employee is attending a vaccine appointment, or cannot work or telework due to vaccine-related symptoms.