California is well-known for its progressive approach to the rights of working people. Workers in California probably enjoy more rights than working people in the other forty-nine states. A San Francisco employment rights attorney will help you if your employer violates those rights.

In April, in another example of California’s progressive approach to worker’s rights, Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order that requires “hiring entities” to provide up to 80 hours of supplemental paid sick leave to eligible food sector workers due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Executive Order N-51-20 extends COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave payments to workers who do not qualify for paid sick leave under the federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

The executive order applies to a variety of workers in the food industry, from delivery drivers to fast food employees, farm workers, and grocery store employees. The executive order also expands handwashing requirements to reduce and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

What are the Details of Executive Order N-51-20?

Qualified California workers in the food sector may receive COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave if they cannot work because they:

1. are under a local, state, or federal isolation or quarantine order
2. were advised by a healthcare professional to self-isolate or self-quarantine
3. have been prevented from working due to concerns regarding COVID-19

How is a “Food Sector Worker” Defined?

As it relates to Executive Order N-51-20, a “food sector worker” is anyone who:

1. works in an occupation or industry listed by the California Industrial Welfare Commission in Wage Orders 3, 8, 13 or 14 – food processing and agriculture, for example

2. works for an employer that is operating what state law defines as a “food facility” – a supermarket or restaurant, for example

3. delivers food from a food facility, food manufacturer, or food processor

4. is an “essential critical infrastructure worker” exempt from Executive Order N-33-20 or any other statewide stay-at-home order

5. leaves his or her residence to work for or through an employer in a qualifying occupation or industry

However, under Executive Order N-51-20, a qualifying corporation, sole proprietorship, or other private entity must employ at minimum of 500 workers in the U.S.

Do “Gig Workers” and Independent Contractors Qualify?

Governor Newsom’s order explicitly avoids using the terms “employee” and “employer” and instead refers to “food sector workers” and “hiring entities.” The order further states that:

“For purposes of the Labor Code … in construing this Executive Order, all Food Sector Workers shall be considered “employees,” any Hiring Entity shall be considered an “employer,” and this Executive Order shall be considered part of the “article” in which those Labor Code sections are codified.”

What is the Pay Rate for the Supplemental Paid Sick Leave?

The COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave pay rate is the worker’s regular pay for the last pay period, the California minimum wage, or the applicable county or municipal minimum wage, whichever is the highest.

The maximum daily COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave is $511. The maximum aggregate amount for any particular worker is $5,110.

How Does the Supplemental Paid Sick Leave Affect Other Paid Leave?

A hiring entity or employer does not need to provide COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave if, as of April 1, 2020, the entity or employer provides its food sector workers with at least equal supplemental sick leave benefits for a reason related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, a hiring entity or employer cannot require a worker to use other paid or unpaid leave before using the COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave. COVID-19 Sick Leave pay is in addition to paid sick leave that may be available to a worker under the California Labor Code.

COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave must be made available to workers immediately. The entity’s or employer’s obligation to provide COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave will last as long as any statewide stay-at-home orders from the State Public Health Officer are in effect.

However, workers who are using COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave when statewide stay-at-home orders expire may use the full amount of leave they would have been entitled to if the stay-at-home orders had not expired.

About Those Handwashing Breaks

Executive Order N-51-20 requires hiring entities and employers to allow employees working in a food facility to wash their hands every 30 minutes, and additionally, as needed.

Governor Newsom signed Executive Order N-51-20 after meeting with unions that represent food service workers and meeting with the state Legislature’s Latino caucus, which stressed the essential nature of food packers and harvesters to the state’s and nation’s food supply chain.

Governor Newsom said that the food sector of California’s economy “has been hard hit by strife, by challenges in terms of health and safety, by concerns around what is happening within food processing plants and meat packing plants.”

He thanked United Farm and Commercial Workers Local 770 President John Grant and California Grocers Association President and CEO Ron Fong for their strong support of grocery store and food service workers during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“They’ve … worked together in a collaborative spirit to address the needs of some of the largest grocery store chains in America that happen to be here in the state of California,” Newsom added.

If Your Employer Violates Your Employment Rights

However, not all California employers or hiring entities are working together in a “collaborative spirit.” If you missed work because you were sick with COVID-19, you took sick leave, and your employer terminated you for that reason, you may be a victim of wrongful termination.

If you have been victimized by wrongful termination in California, you may be entitled by law to return to your position, and you may also be compensated for your lost wages and even for your emotional suffering. Every working person in California is entitled to justice.

If you are terminated illegally, an employment rights lawyer may have several effective legal strategies for challenging your wrongful termination. Trying to negotiate with the employer for an out-of-court settlement is usually the first step.

However, if an acceptable settlement offer is not made in private negotiations, your lawyer may recommend taking the case to trial. Each employ rights case is unique, so it is essential to adhere to your attorney’s advice.

If you believe that you have been fired from your job in California for any reason that is illegal, or if you are being denied the sick leave that you are entitled to, arrange immediately to discuss your case, your rights, and your legal options with a San Francisco employment rights attorney.

By: Fred Geonetta

Frederick J. Geonetta is a graduate of the University of California, Hastings College of Law. His legal practice is entirely devoted to litigation. Mr. Geonetta has spent the past 25 years in private practice representing both plaintiffs and defendants who have been harmed or wronged by the actions of others or who have been falsely accused of causing harm to others. He represents clients across the U.S. and international clients who seek U.S. legal advice or representation.