California Increases Paid Sick Leave for Food Sector Workers and Outlines Plan to Reopen Economy

COVID-19 Update

This week, Governor Gavin Newsom continued efforts to provide relief for California workers impacted by COVID-19 while beginning the planning process for reopening California’s economy. Specifically, on Thursday, April 16, 2020, Governor Newsom signed an executive order providing California “food sector workers” of companies with more than 500 employees who are impacted by COVID-19 with two weeks of additional paid sick leave. The executive order is intended to fill a gap left by federal relief that had provided similar paid leave benefits for employers with fewer than 500 workers. Governor Newsom also outlined earlier this week a six-step plan for reopening California’s economy at the conclusion of the stay-at-home orders.

Paid Sick Leave for Food Sector Workers Executive Order

Executive Order N-51-20 (EO) goes into effect immediately and applies to food sector companies with more than 500 employees or workers. Governor Newsom’s EO specifically recognizes that while the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) provides emergency paid sick leave benefits to employees working for companies with fewer than 500 employees, workers in larger companies failed to receive the same protections. Thus, notwithstanding the FFCRA, many food sector workers continue to lack access to paid sick leave, and the Governor’s EO is aimed at bridging that gap. Here are some key provisions of the EO:

  • Specifically, it provides an additional two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave relief (COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave) to essential food sector workers, which it defines to include farm and agricultural workers and those working in grocery stores and fast-food chain restaurants, in addition to those involved in the delivery of food, such as drivers.
  • The COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave can be used when a worker is unable to work because (1) the worker is subject to COVID-19 quarantine or isolation orders, (2) the worker has been advised by a healthcare provider to self-quarantine or self-isolate because of COVID-19, or (3) the worker is prohibited from working due to the company’s health concerns “related to potential transmission of COVID-19.”
  • Workers who qualify for the benefit are entitled to the COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave in addition to any paid sick leave provided under California Labor Code Section 246. The EO provides for 80 hours of paid sick leave for full-time workers and a formula for calculating the appropriate time off for part-time workers.
  • Each hour of the paid leave shall be compensated at a rate equal to the highest of (1) the worker’s current regular rate of pay, (2) state minimum wage or (3) the local minimum wage.
  • The COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave is effective immediately and continues “during the pendency of any statewide stay-at-home orders issued by the State Public Health Officer.” However, qualified workers taking COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave at the time of expiration of any such order shall be permitted to take the full amount.
  • The EO excludes those food sector companies that are otherwise providing their employees and workers with benefits equal to or greater than those required by the EO.
  • The EO provides the state’s Labor Commissioner with the power to ensure its enforcement and allows workers to file any complaints related to the same with that office.

Additionally, the EO aims to increase worker and customer health and safety protection by permitting workers at food facilities to wash their hands every 30 minutes, or as needed, to increase proper sanitation measures.

A copy of the EO can be accessed here.

Governor Newsom’s Six-Step Plan for Reopening California’s Economy

Earlier this week, on April 14, Governor Newsom outlined what he considered to be six key indicators necessary before lifting or otherwise modifying California’s stay-at-home orders. However, the Governor cautioned that there is no precise date or timeline for achieving this goal.

The Governor warned that while there has been progress in flattening the curve and increased preparedness of our healthcare delivery system, these actions have also impacted California’s economy and overall healthcare in California. His plan calls for a gradual, science-based and data-driven framework. He noted that his actions are aligned to achieve the following:

  • Ensure the ability to care for the sick within our hospitals
  • Prevent infection in people who are at high risk for severe disease
  • Build the capacity to protect the health and well-being of the public
  • Reduce social, emotional and economic disruptions

To that end, the Governor, along with Dr. Sonia Y. Angell, director, California Department of Public Health, outlined the Administration’s “California Roadmap to Modify the Stay-at Home Order.” The Administration noted the state is currently planning and preparing for when it is appropriate to shift its response strategy from the surge phase of the pandemic to the suppression phase, with the ultimate goal of herd immunity and a vaccine. According to the Administration, there are six key indicators that will need to be achieved prior to launching the suppression phase and modifying the stay-at-home orders:

1. The ability to monitor and protect our communities through testing, contact tracing, isolating and supporting those who are positive or exposed

2. The ability to prevent infection in people who are at risk for more severe COVID-19

3. The ability of the hospital and health systems to handle surges

4. The ability to develop therapeutics to meet the demand

5. The ability for businesses, schools and child care facilities to support physical distancing

6. The ability to determine when to reinstitute certain measures, such as the stay-at-home orders, if necessary

The Governor has formed a dedicated Task Force for each of above described six indicators and has committed to providing weekly updates on where the teams are in terms of progress and planning to achieve the goals and prepare the state to lift the stay-at-home orders.

Manatt’s COVID-19 Client Service Response Team will continue to monitor updates at local, state and federal levels to provide guidance to clients in returning their employees to work and reopening their businesses while complying with the applicable directives.

For regular updates on the major challenges companies are facing, please visit our COVID-19 resources page and subscribe for timely updates in your inbox here.

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