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California Grocery Stores Fined for Failure to Pay COVID-19 Sick Leave

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Three El Super grocery stores were fined by California regulators for failing to provide or delay sick leave to its 95 employees affected by COVID-19

Santa Clara, CAThree El Super grocery stores in Southern California were slapped with fines of more than $447,000 by California regulators last month for failing to provide or delay sick leave during the pandemic. The California Labor Commissioner’s Office said some of the 95 employees were forced to work while sick, others were told to apply for unemployment while quarantining or in isolation, and others waited months to be paid.

In a News Release The California Department of Industrial Relations said the Labor Commissioner’s Office began investigating the grocery stores almost a year ago after workers complained. Some workers with COVID-19 symptoms were told to come to work until they received test results. And other workers were told to apply for disability or unemployment to cover quarantine time, but many employees were denied time off to isolate, despite their family members testing positive. And to top it off, some workers who tested positive were never paid sick leave. 

The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union that represents grocery store workers also contacted the Labor Commissioner’s Office.

Supplemental Paid Sick Leave (SPSL)


The investigators found that El Super employers failed to inform workers of their rights to SPSL if impacted by COVID-19. “SPSL is a tool to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Labor Commissioner Lilia García-Brower. “My office is working to ensure that workers who are impacted by COVID-19 have access to paid time to care for themselves or their relatives.”

The 2021 SPSL, which went into effect on March 29 and is retroactive to January 1, 2021, requires that California workers are provided up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave if they are affected by COVID-19. Among the key updates in the legislation, leave time also applies to attending a COVID-19 vaccine appointment and recovering from symptoms related to the vaccine. The law is in effect until September 30, 2021. Small businesses employing 25 or fewer workers are exempt from the law but may offer supplemental paid sick leave and receive a federal tax credit, if eligible.

The fines included a $318,000 penalty for delaying payment of supplemental paid sick leave, or failing to pay it altogether, about $115,000 for not providing leave under the 2020 framework for food-sector workers and approximately $15,000 for not adhering to the state's 2021 supplemental paid sick leave law for companies with 26 or more employees.

The 2021 SPSL, which is retroactive to January 1, 2021 and in effect until September 30, 2021, requires that California workers are provided up to two weeks of supplemental paid sick leave if they are affected by COVID-19. Leave time also applies to attending a COVID-19 vaccine appointment and recovering from symptoms related to the vaccine. Small businesses employing 25 or fewer workers are exempt from the law but may offer supplemental paid sick leave and receive a federal tax credit, if eligible.

Those Opposed


An El Super spokesperson told Law360 that the citation "is without merit" and that the grocer will "vigorously defend" its record of compliance. The spokesperson went on."For months, we have attempted to work with the labor commissioner in order to provide evidence of compliance with [supplemental paid sick leave}... We are disappointed that the labor commissioner acted without completing their investigation."  

Disputes with the California Labor Law and grocers over workers rights and COVID-19 have been ongoing, including a lawsuit filed by the California Grocers Association earlier this year. The CGA filed a lawsuit against the City of Long Beach in response to a new ordinance requiring grocery stores to temporarily bump their workers' pay during the pandemic, claiming that “the ordinance is unconstitutional and is preempted by the National Labor Relations Act,” reported Law360. The CGA argued the premium pay mandate unfairly targets certain grocers and therefore violates equal protection clauses found in both the state and federal constitutions. The CGA also said the ordinance ignores thin profit margins and high operating costs that traditional grocers face during the pandemic.

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