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Local Ordinance, Massive Implications: Sonoma County Supplemental Paid Sick Leave
Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Changes in local regulations across California continue to shift the legal landscape for employers, bringing massive implications to their business. On August 18, 2020, Sonoma County passed a paid sick leave ordinance (the “Sonoma Ordinance”), which took effect immediately and sunsetting on December 31, 2020.  The Sonoma Ordinance brings sweeping changes to businesses in unincorporated Sonoma County.

Employers Covered

The Sonoma Ordinance covers employees who are not covered under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”), which was signed into law on March 18, 2020. While the FFCRA applies to companies with fewer than 500 employees, the Sonoma Ordinance covers those employees of companies with more than 500 employees either locally or nationally. Further, the Sonoma Ordinance covers employees who work more than two hours in the unincorporated areas of the County, not applying to Santa Rosa employees, which has passed its own ordinance.

Health Care Workers Included

Unlike the FFCRA and many other local ordinances, Sonoma County rejected an exemption for the health care industry and first responders. The employer may still deny the leave if the employer makes a good faith determination that granting such leave would create a staffing shortfall, such that operational needs dictate denial of some or all of the employee’s request for use of the leave.

Supplemental Leave Allowed Under Certain Conditions

Full-time employees are provided 80 hours of paid sick leave and part-time employees receive a propionate share based on a formula relating to their average hours worked.

Employees may take supplemental leave for any of the following reasons:

  1. The Employee has been advised by a health care provider to isolate or self-quarantine to prevent the spread of COVID-19;
  2. The Employee is subject to quarantine or isolation by federal, state or local order due to COVID-19;
  3. The Employee is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis;
  4. The Employee needs to care for an individual who is subject to a federal, state or local quarantine or isolation order related to COVID-19, or has been advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine related to COVID-19, or is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and is seeking a medical diagnosis; or
  5. The Employee takes time off work because the Employee needs to provide care for an Individual whose senior care provider or whose school or childcare provider is closed or is unavailable in response to a public health or other public official’s recommendation.

Leave Pay Cap

Similar to the FFCRA and other local ordinances, leave pay is capped at no more than $511, up from $200, per day and $5,110 for a two-week period, up from $2,000.

Coexistence with Other Available Forms of Leave/Offsets

The total number of hours of paid sick leave is in addition to any paid sick leave that may be available to the employee under California Labor Code Section 246, as well as any preexisting paid time off (vacation, sick and/or PTO) provided to employees before March 16, 2020, subject to an offset. While an employer may not require an employee to use any other paid or unpaid leave, sick pay paid time off, or vacation time provided by the employer.

Offset Explained:

If an employee has at least 80 hours of accrued paid sick leave benefits as of August 18, 2020, or at least 160 hours of a combination of paid sick leave, vacation, and paid time off benefits the obligation to provide paid sick leave under the Sonoma Ordinance shall be deemed to be satisfied.

To the extent accrued paid sick leave benefits afforded employees as of August 18, 2020, are less than 80 hours, or accrued leave benefits are less than one hundred sixty 160 hours, an Employer is required to furnish paid sick leave to the extent of such deficiency.

Documentation Requirements/Replacements

The Sonoma Ordinance specifies that employers may only take “reasonable” measures to confirm the employee’s eligibility and prohibits requiring an employee to furnish a doctor’s note or other supporting documentation. Employers may require employees to identify the basis for which the employee is requesting leave under the Sonoma Ordinance.

Further employers are prohibited from requiring employees to find or confirm a replacement as a condition of obtaining leave under the Sonoma Ordinance.

Notice Requirement

Employers are mandated to provide notice to employees of their rights under the Sonoma Ordinance by posting a notice in English and Spanish in the workplace or any intranet or email.

Employers should remain mindful of all local ordinances that may potentially affect their business. Local ordinances vary across counties and in some situations, cities, requiring employers to keep their pulse on numerous changes. 

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