POLITICS
09/10/2014 03:41 pm ET Updated Sep 11, 2014

Millions Of California Workers Are About To Get Paid Sick Days

In the largest expansion of its kind to date, the state of California on Wednesday extended paid sick leave to millions of workers who would otherwise have to choose between a day's pay and working while ill.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D-Calif.) signed a bill making California the only state other than Connecticut to have a sick-leave mandate on its books. Under the law, employers will have to let workers accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they work, to be capped at three days per year at employers' discretion.

"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 in a statement.

Brown's office estimates that the mandate will bring paid sick leave to 6.5 million Californians who currently don't have it. The bill passed both chambers of the statehouse by wide margins late last month, sending the legislation to Brown's desk. The law goes into effect next July.

Unlike many other countries in the developed world, the United States has no federal law guaranteeing paid sick leave for workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that about four out of 10 workers in the U.S. are not covered by a sick leave plan.

In recent years employers have been voluntarily providing a larger share of employees with paid sick leave, but a growing number of local governments also have begun passing mandates to assure that more low-wage workers are covered. Sick-leave ordinances have now come to cities such as New York, San Diego, Portland and Washington, D.C., among others. In 2011, Connecticut enacted the first such state law.

Sick-leave proposals tend to draw fierce opposition from lobbies representing restaurants and retail stores, where workers are less likely to have sick leave. Democrats in Congress have proposed a federal sick-leave law that would cover most U.S. workers, but the bill hasn't gone anywhere in the GOP-controlled House.

The California measure signed by Brown on Wednesday wasn't an unqualified victory for progressives. An amendment was tacked onto the bill that carved out low-wage home care workers, prompting two major labor unions to pull their support.

Correction: This post originally gave an incorrect vote tally and date for the bill's passage in the state senate.

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