As previously reported, Santa Rosa is one of the latest localities to adopt an urgency ordinance requiring employers to provide temporary COVID-19-related emergency paid sick leave. The urgency ordinance went into effect on July 7, 2020, and currently ends on December 31, 2020.
The ordinance generally covers all private employers, including those already covered by the federal Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) provisions of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), to the extent the ordinance provides additional protections than what is provided under the federal EPSL. Also exempt under the ordinance are employers with fewer than 50 employees that would qualify for the exemption from providing leave to an employee who needs time off to care for a child due to school or childcare unavailability under federal law.
Notably, the ordinance doesn’t recognize an exemption for health care providers and emergency responders, as provided for under the federal EPSL.
A covered employee is a person employed by an employer who has worked at least two hours within the geographic boundaries of the City of Santa Rosa for their employer. An employee who works part of their hours within Santa Rosa city limits is entitled to paid sick leave hours equal to the number of hours they work on average over a two-week period in Santa Rosa.
Sick Leave Requirement
Employers must provide EPSL to each employee who provides “allowed or essential work” (as permitted in orders issued by the Sonoma County Public Health Officer). The sick leave benefit is available to eligible employees as of July 7, 2020. Unused leave will cease to exist after December 31, 2020, and employees are not entitled to be paid for unused leave.
Full-time employees are entitled to 80 hours of paid sick leave.
Part-time employees are entitled to sick leave hours equal to the number of hours they work on average over a two-week period.
Covered Uses and Rate of Pay
An employee may use paid sick leave hours if:
- Subject to quarantine or isolation by federal, state or local order due to COVID-19;
- Advised by a health care provider to self-quarantine due to COVID-19;
- Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and is seeking medical diagnosis;
- Caring for an individual subject to an order described in (1) or (2); or
- Caring for a minor child because a school or daycare is closed, or the child care provider is not available due to COVID-19.
Like with federal EPSL, a written note from a medical provider is not required for an employee to use the leave.
Additionally, an employer cannot require an employee to find a replacement as a condition of using leave.
While the language of the ordinance doesn’t explicitly state that the employee must be “unable to work or telework” (like the federal EPSL), in a Frequently Asked Questions resource for employers, city guidance clarifies that if an employee can continue working remotely, they wouldn’t receive this compensation in lieu of working, if they’re able.
Also distinct from the federal EPSL, Santa Rosa’s ordinance makes no distinction between an employee caring for themselves or for someone else, for purposes of the rate of pay. An employee using the leave is entitled to their regular rate of pay (up to $511 per day and $5,110 total) in all circumstances.
Employers who, as of July 7, 2020, have provided employees with some combination of paid personal leave, which is at least equivalent to the paid sick time required by the ordinance, may use that leave to offset the ordinance’s requirement. However, the paid personal leave must have been above and beyond what the employer normally provides, and an employer must still comply to the extent that the paid personal leave is deficient in what the ordinance requires.
Employers may not terminate, reduce pay or otherwise discriminate against an employee for requesting to use sick leave, or otherwise exercising their rights under the ordinance.
An employee claiming a violation of the ordinance may bring an action in civil court and if successful, may be awarded reinstatement, benefits unlawfully withheld, reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs, and any other relief the court deems appropriate.
More information and resources on the ordinance can be found on the City of Santa Rosa’s website.