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California lawmakers advance bill to mandate paid sick leave

By Jennifer Chaussee

SACRAMENTO Calif. (Reuters) - California businesses would have to offer paid sick leave to employees under a bill approved by the state Assembly on Thursday, and if the measure becomes law California would join Connecticut as the only U.S. states with such a mandate.

The bill passed the Assembly by a vote of 48-20 and now moves on to the state Senate.

The measure, authored by Democratic Assembly member Lorena Gonzalez, requires all employers to offer one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. It would allow employers to limit the number of sick days a worker can take to three days.

Worker rights groups and others are campaigning for an expansion of paid sick leave rights in the private sector. So far, mandates on paid sick days have primarily been taken up by local governments, with San Francisco in 2006 becoming the first U.S. city to require it, according to the Washington-based National Partnership for Women and Families.

Connecticut in 2011 passed the first statewide mandate on paid sick leave.

Employees in California would be able to use paid sick days when they or someone in their care gets sick. Currently, employers in California are under no legal obligation to offer the benefit to their staff, but those employers who do would be exempt from the bill’s requirements.

“The time has come to protect families, to protect workers, to protect public health, and to protect taxpayers” Gonzalez said. “This will fundamentally change the lives of workers.”

Assembly Republicans pushed back against the measure, saying it would impose too great a burden on businesses and could conflict with existing paid time-off plans.

“This is more burden on business,” said Republican Assembly member Don Wagner. “We just keep piling it on.”

Democrats from the Assembly argued that the lack of sick days available to some workers is a public health issue because employees who come to work sick spread their illnesses.

Providing paid sick leave for the hundreds of thousands of independent employees who deliver in-home healthcare services to the state’s disabled and elderly population is expected to cost the state nearly $5 million annually, according to an analysis of the bill.

The analysis also said the bill would cost the state around $2 million annually to enforce and investigate violations.

(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis and Steve Orlofsky)

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