Many California workers can once again start claiming COVID sick pay starting Feb. 19.

This new option to claim up to 80 hours of paid leave for reasons related to COVID is due to a deal approved by California lawmakers and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom Feb. 8 amid the continued omicron surge. According to a California Budget and Policy Center analysis of census data, the number of Californians who were not working in the last month because they or a family member had COVID was up by 320%.

Keep reading to find out who can claim this new COVID sick pay, what you can use it for, and how it works. We’ll be updating this guide as we learn more information.

Skip straight to:

  • Who can access this new COVID sick leave?
  • Which COVID-related reasons does this sick pay cover?
  • Can I claim back previous sick time or PTO?
  • What issues might I encounter?

Who can access this new COVID sick leave?

Starting Saturday, Feb. 19, you can claim paid COVID sick leave if you work in California for an employer of 26 or more people.

You can claim paid COVID sick leave for one or more of the following reasons:

  • You have COVID
  • A family member has COVID and you need to care for them
  • You need to attend a vaccination appointment (includes boosters)
  • You need to recover from getting vaccinated (includes boosters)
  • You need to take care of a family member who needs to get a vaccination, or recover from a vaccination or booster
  • You need to take care of a child who cannot attend school because of virus-related closures or quarantines

You can access this COVID sick leave regardless of your immigration or documentation status. If you anticipate entering any future immigration process — such as applying for a green card — claiming COVID sick leave does not make you a public charge.

If this all sounds pretty straightforward so far … hold up. It’s going to get slightly more complicated than California’s COVID sick leave last year.

How does the new paid COVID sick leave work?

Like the 2021 version of California’s COVID sick leave laws, the 2022 bill allows you to claim up to 80 hours of paid sick leave for COVID-related reasons.

Unlike the 2021 version, this new bill splits those hours into two types (or “banks”) of up to 40 hours each — and which bank you draw from will depend on why you’re claiming these hours.

Bank A: The more flexible option, offering up to 40 hours

This bank is more flexible, because you can use these 40 hours for a wide range of COVID-related reasons, like:

  • You have COVID
  • A family member has COVID and you need to care for them
  • You need to attend a vaccination appointment (includes boosters)
  • You need to recover from getting vaccinated (includes boosters)
  • You need to take care of a family member who needs to get a vaccination, or recover from a vaccination or booster
  • You need to take care of a child who cannot attend school because of virus-related closures or quarantines

Steve Smith, communications director at the California Labor Federation, says it’s helpful to think of Bank A as the one that’s “pretty broad in terms of how applicable it is to many different situations that would cause workers to miss work as a result of COVID.”

One important thing to note about using Bank A to claim hours for you or a family member to get a COVID vaccine or a booster, or recover from getting a vaccine or a booster: For each vaccine or booster, your employer can limit the number of hours you can claim to 24 working hours (or three days). To claim more leave in this situation, you’ll need a note from a health care provider that verifies that you or the family member is continuing to experience symptoms related to the vaccine or booster.

Bank B: The less flexible option also offering up to 40 hours

The other type of paid COVID sick leave — Bank B — is more restrictive, as these hours can only be accessed when you or a loved one has COVID.

In order to draw hours from Bank B, you will need to prove to your employer that you or someone in your family has tested positive, by submitting proof of that positive test result.

Think of Bank A and Bank B as two separate doors that allow you to access paid COVID sick leave — except that you need a key (a positive test result for COVID) to open the Bank B door.

Do I need to use up all my paid sick leave from Bank A before drawing from Bank B?

No — you can draw from either bank at any time, depending on the reason for needing it. “You can use both banks in the same week potentially,” confirms Smith.

If you’re wondering how a person could variously draw from Bank A and Bank B in the space of a few months, The Los Angeles Times’s guide to COVID sick leave has this helpful example:

Can I claim this new COVID sick leave retroactively?

Yes. If you took paid time off or sick leave for COVID-related reasons any time on or after Jan. 1, 2022, you can claim those hours back from your employer starting Feb. 19. This also applies to any unpaid sick leave you took on or after Jan. 1, for which you can now “either get paid for that time or get credited those sick days that you used,” says Smith.

Any hours you claim retroactively can be drawn from either bank. However, keep in mind that if you choose to take hours from Bank B, you may still have to verify with your employer that you or a loved one was sick with COVID when you took unpaid sick leave, and provide a positive test from that period.

What if I don’t work full time?

These two banks of COVID sick leave are framed as up to 40 hours each — up to 80 hours total — because that’s the maximum amount you can claim based on a full-time work schedule. If you don’t work full time, explains Smith, “the leave is pro-rated based on how many hours a week you do work” by looking at the number of hours a week you worked over the last six months.

“If you work less than six months, then the equation is a little bit different,” says Smith, who adds that the Department of Industrial Relations will soon release guidelines for part-time workers on accessing their COVID sick leave.

KQED will be updating this section once state officials release more information.

If I can use this COVID sick leave if a member of my family needs my care, who counts as ‘my family’?

“This is one of the areas of the law that I think has the potential to be a little complicated,” says Smith.

He says that a family member is “typically described as someone living in your household” — but acknowledges that those kinds of definitions have definitely become more fluid during the pandemic, as unrelated people quarantine or isolate together in the same home. Smith also uses the example of a parent who doesn’t live in your home full-time, but requires your care — either in your home or theirs — because they’ve got COVID.

“This is one of the areas that’s a little bit gray, and we’ll be getting more guidance from the Department of Industrial Relations soon,” assures Smith. Again, we’ll be updating this section once state officials release more information.

If I need to provide a positive COVID test for me or a family member to access Bank B of COVID sick leave, what kind of test is acceptable?

Smith says right now, it appears either a PCR test or an antigen test will be accepted by employers — and that at-home antigen tests are also acceptable. This includes the at-home tests you can order for free to your home from the U.S. Postal Service.

Since you can use both Bank A and Bank B of COVID sick leave if you or a family member get COVID, Smith notes that you may need to provide a second positive test to be able to access your Bank B hours if you’ve already exhausted your hours from Bank A.

“So we think it’s a good rule of thumb for workers to get tested as soon as they show symptoms, and then to get tested again if they’re still feeling ill heading into that second week,” he says.

Who isn’t able to claim COVID sick leave?

If you work for a business that has fewer than 26 employees, you can’t claim this new COVID sick leave. As CalMatters has reported, this means approximately 1 in 4 California workers are excluded.

Without access to this COVID sick leave, most workers in California are only legally entitled to up to three days of sick leave per year.

Smith also notes that the new sick leave bill leaves out workers who are “classified as independent contractors, even though they may not actually be independent in the truest sense of the word” — like gig workers.

If you’re not able to access COVID sick leave, check whether your city or county has its own program offering financial support to people losing work due to COVID. San Francisco’s Right to Recover program, for example, offers funds to residents who test positive for COVID and can’t work during their recovery.

You can also use California’s COVID-19 Worker Benefits and Leave Navigator online tool to explore your leave options during the pandemic.

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