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California "Kin Care" Leave New for 2000

This information is intended to be a summary of California legislation that changes requirements for employers allowing use of sick leave by workers when family members are ill. It is offered for education purposes only and is subject to change without notice. It should not be construed as legal advice. If further information is needed, please contact competent legal counsel. (October 20, 1999)

Governor Gray Davis signed this new law on August 24, 1999.

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What is "Kin Care" Leave?

"Kin Care" is the term being used to describe the new California requirement that employees be allowed to use up to half of their accrued sick leave benefits to care for a sick family member. This new requirement became reality when the State Legislature passed A.B. 109 and Governor Gray Davis signed it into law in August. The new requirements become effective on January 1, 2000.

What Employers are Covered?

All California employers are covered if they offer sick leave to their workers. The new law does not require employers to initiate a sick leave benefit program. Only those employers who already have a sick leave program are affected. The number of employees in an organization does not matter under this new requirement. Nothing in the new law prevents an employer from changing or terminating an existing sick leave benefit plan.

What is Sick Leave?

The new law defines sick leave as accrued increments of compensated leave meant for an employee's illness or injury, doctor appointments or other medical needs.

What Must Employers Allow Under the New Law?

Employees must be allowed to take up to half of their accrued sick leave in any year for the care of a sick family member. Specifically, the law says it can be used to care for a child, parent or spouse. "Child" is defined to mean a biological, adopted or foster child, stepchild, legal ward, or a child an employee has accepted the duties and responsibilities of raising. This would cover a grandparent who is raising a grandchild. The child is not required to be a minor inorder to receive coverage. "Parent" means a biological, foster or adoptive parent, a stepparent or a legal guardian. Mothers-in-law, fathers-in-law and grandparents are not considered parents for purposes of this law. "Spouse" means the person to whom an employee is legally married.

What is NOT Required?

The following things are NOT required by this new legislation.

  • Employers that DO NOT currently have a sick leave program are not required to create one.
  • Employers are NOT PREVENTED from changing or terminating their sick leave policy as a result of this legislation.
  • Employers are NOT required to allow sick leave to be "carried over" from one year to the next if it is not all used in the current year.
  • Employers are NOT required to pay for sick leave in lieu of an employee's taking the time off.
  • Can Employers Require Doctor's Certification?

    If it is the employer's normal policy requires employees to provide a physician's certification for sickness absence, it is alright under the new law to require employees to provide a physician's certification that the family member in question was actually ill.

    Are There Any Penalties for Not Complying?

    Yes there are. Any employee who is denied the use of accrued sick leave for kin care, or discriminated against in any way for using sick leave for kin care, can file a claim with the California Labor Commissioner, or file a civil lawsuit against the employer. Remedies include reinstatement, back pay, other damages and attorney's fees.

    What Should Employers Do Now?

    Employers should examine their current policies to determine if they have a written sick leave policy and what provisions it contains. If paid sick leave is offered currently, policies must be rewritten to allow for kin care applications after January 1, 2000. If you are among those employers who offer a combination of vacation time and sick leave time in the form of Paid Time Off (PTO), you will likely have to make provisions for allowing up to half of all paid time off for kin care leave. Before implementing your revised policy, we strongly recommend that you review it with your labor attorney.

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