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California bill would ensure workers get paid when forced to take time off during public health emergencies

"Workers shouldn't be fired if they miss work because they've been quarantined or isolated due to a public health emergency like the coronavirus," Gonzalez said.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Current California law does not have a way to ensure that a worker who is asked to stay home because of the coronavirus will be paid, but a new bill would change that.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D–San Diego) introduced this week Assembly Bill 3123, new legislation that would protect workers from retaliation when they are unable to work during public health emergencies such as the coronavirus outbreak.

"Workers shouldn't be fired if they miss work because they've been quarantined or isolated due to a public health emergency like the coronavirus," Gonzalez said. "We need to support workers so they can take every action necessary to prevent the spreading of this disease."

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Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency in California over the coronavirus on Wednesday. Twelve California counties have reported cases of the coronavirus, sickening 69 people and killing one.

AB 3123 bill would amend a portion of the labor code that refers to when an employee can take sick leave. Currently, employees can call or submit a written request of their employer to use sick days and cannot be punished for using them.

Gonzalez said the new bill would allow for employees to use their sick days and not be punished in the event of a public health emergency even if the business is closed or they need to be home because their child's care facility is closed.

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If an employee is complying with an isolation or quarantine order issued by a public official due to a public health emergency, AB 3123 states that an employer may not discharge or in any manner discriminate or retaliate against that employee.

The California Chamber of Commerce has not taken a position on this bill.

The official bill text is expected to be made public in two weeks, according to Gonzalez's office.

BACKGROUND: 

According to the CDC, coronavirus (COVID-19) is a family of viruses that is spreadable from person to person. Coronavirus is believed to have been first detected in a seafood market in Wuhan, China in December 2019. If someone is sick with coronavirus, the symptoms they may show include mild to severe respiratory illness, cough, and difficulty breathing.

Currently, there is no vaccine, however, the CDC suggests the following precautions, along with any other respiratory illness:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.

The CDC also says facemasks should only be used by people who show symptoms of the virus. If you’re not sick, you do not have to wear a facemask. The CDC says the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low.

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