San Jose officials have unanimously approved an emergency paid sick leave policy that guarantees any essential employee in the city will be paid if they are affected by the growing coronavirus crisis and unable to work.
“I don’t want sick people going to work,” Councilmember Maya Esparza, one of the original city leaders that proposed a citywide sick leave policy, said during Tuesday’s city council meeting. “This is about saving lives.”
The city’s ordinance is aimed at filling gaps created by federal sick leave legislation passed by Congress earlier this month — dubbed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act — that only covers government staff and employees in private-sector companies with fewer than 500 people and provides potential exemptions for businesses of fewer than 50 employees. It will remain in effect until the city lifts the emergency declaration put in place for the current coronavirus pandemic.
Under the emergency ordinance, businesses that remain in operation during the county and state’s stay-at-home mandates are required to provide employees affected by coronavirus with an immediate 40 hours of sick leave, and an additional hour for every two hours worked — up to a cap of 80 hours of sick leave.
Businesses that already provide employees with at least 160 hours — including paid time off and vacation –are exempt.
The ordinance goes beyond state law, which requires businesses to provide 24 hours of paid sick leave to employees, and further than permanent ordinances in other California cities, which at most provide 72 hours.
To qualify for the city’s proposed emergency sick leave protections, an employee must be experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 or be under a quarantine or isolation order, caring for an individual with a suspected or confirmed case of coronavirus, or watching a child whose school has been closed while the stay-at-home order is in place.
State senator Jim Beall and State Assemblymen Kansen Chu and Ash Kalra all wrote letters in support of the city’s ordinance.
“Having access to adequate paid sick leave is not only good for workers- it’s a critical component to protecting public health,” Beall wrote in his letter. “…As recent events have taught us, it is essential that everyone has access to robust paid sick leave benefits before the next public health emergency strikes.”
But multiple groups that represent the city’s businesses strongly opposed the regulation.
Tracey Enfantino, board chair of the Business San Jose Chamber PAC, urged the council to vote against the ordinance, telling them in a letter that “now is not the time to play politics with our local economy.”
“This misguided attempt of the sick pay requirement being proposed will only drive businesses further into debt and in all likelihood will drive some of them out of business,” Enfantino wrote in a letter. “In an attempt to take advantage of these business owners in these very difficult times, proponents of this proposal are taking advantage of this pandemic and proposing laws that will impact us for years to come.”
Despite some opposition, the ordinance takes effect immediately — for the majority of employers.
After hearing concerns from a representative from Kaiser, the city added a stipulation to provide employers that operate hospitals with a two-week period to comply with the ordinance.