OAKLAND — As cases of COVID-19 have continued to surge almost a year into the pandemic, Oakland is extending an ordinance it enacted last spring that requires businesses to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave to workers affected by coronavirus.
The ordinance requires businesses with more than 50 employees to provide 80 hours of paid sick leave to full-time employees who are either sick with COVID-19 or have been exposed, those who are caring for a family members exposed to COVID-19, or a child whose school is closed under a local or state order. It also allows employees to take that time off of work to protect themselves from exposure to COVID-19 if they are at higher risk of becoming seriously ill or dying from the virus, such as if they are over the age of 65 or have underlying health conditions.
“The very workers we depend on to navigate this crisis must be able to protect themselves and their families,” said a memo summarizing the ordinance from city councilmembers Sheng Thao and Dan Kalb, who introduced the extension of the city law. “No one should have to choose between keeping their family safe and putting food on thetable.”
It comes as California is still grappling with major outbreaks of COVID-19. After the state reached its 2 millionth confirmed case of COVID-19 on Dec. 23, it has now hit 3 million cases.
Many experts say that strong sick leave policies in which employees can take paid time to recover without getting others sick or limit their own exposure to the virus is crucial to helping to stop the spread of the virus.
The original ordinance was adopted by the City Council in May as a supplement to the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The federal law fell short in that it did not apply to companies with more than 500employees and did not allow workers to use the paid sick leave to take time off for the risk their age or underlying conditions posed, as Oakland’s ordinance does. The federal law also only compensated for 66 percent of employees’ regular pay if they were using the time off to care for a child whose school was closed due to COVID-19 or other family member impacted by COVID-19.
The federal law expired on Dec. 31 and thus under federal law, employers across the country are no longer required to provide the paid sick leave to their workers. A new federal law the Consolidated Appropriations Act , 2021, allows employers tax credits for providing the paid sick leave, however.
Oakland’s renewed law, which went into effect immediately upon its approval Tuesday as an “emergency” ordinance, does not have a specific expiration date. Instead, it will be tied to however long Oakland’s coronavirus-related local emergency proclamation remains in effect.
It’s not the only city to enact or extend requirements on businesses to provide sick leave.
Earlier this month, the San Jose City Council unanimously voted to extend a similar ordinance in that city until the middle of this year.
Oakland city staff in charge of managing the ordinance and its enforcement said Tuesday they will place an updated memo on the city’s website to address frequently asked questions.
So far, the city staffers said, the response from workers in Oakland has been supportive of the ordinance.
City staffer Ron San Miguel told councilmembers that he and his colleagues in the department of workplace and employment standards had received phone calls and email inquiries about whether the ordinance would be extended, and that many people who work in the city had called to say they had received their emergency paid sick leave successfully.
Deborah Barnes, the city’s director of workplace and employment standards, told the City Council Tuesday that the process of enforcing the ordinance had gone smoothly so far, but that enforcement was not a quick turnaround process because each case requires data collection and interviews. The department was in the process of reviewing 5 or 6 outstanding cases of possible violation of the ordinance by Tuesday, Barnes said.
While the city staff members said new information would be posted on the city’s website, documents referencing the original ordinance directed Oakland workers with questions about the ordinance to call 510-238-6258 email firstname.lastname@example.org.