CALIFORNIA, USA — COVID-19 infections due to the omicron variant are surging, and sick Californians who miss work due to the virus have few protections due to a lapse in emergency laws, according to worker rights advocates.
"There are few protections for people to get paid leave, if they are sick from COVID-19 right now," said Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation. "That presents a tremendous problem, not just for workers who get sick, but also for customers, for the community at large, for our efforts in the state to slow the spread.”
The supplemental COVID-19 paid leave benefits seen in both 2021 and 2020 have expired. California’s 2021 COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave expired September 30, 2021, Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act expired December 30, 2020, and unemployment insurance is also not intended to be used as Paid Sick Leave.
Those who get COVID-19 and miss work also are no longer eligible for unemployment benefits as was the exception under the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which also expired in September.
This is why labor advocates like Smith are pressing the governor and state legislature to reinstate the emergency law, which he says was allowed to lapse when COVID-19 cases were low.
"Right now, (workers) are having to make a terrible choice between staying home and not getting paid -- which may mean they cannot keep the lights on or pay rent at the end of the month -- or going to work sick. That's not a decision that any worker should be forced to make. That's why reinstating emergency sick leave is so vital," Smith said.
The governor's office tells ABC10 it does not have information to share regarding supplemental COVID-19 sick leave right now. However, they did add that the governor will be rolling out a new budget next week.
Assemblywoman Wendy Carillo told CalMatters, that she is looking to the $31B surplus for opportunities to bring back extended sick leave.
Smith said there is a mechanism under CAL/OSHA COVID-19 Prevention Emergency Temporary Standards for a worker to apply for paid leave, if it can be proven the worker was infected in the workplace.
“With omicron ripping through our communities, the time is now to get this done. We can’t wait. If we do, we’re going to see much greater spread and much more death and disease," Smith said.