It’s been more than 10 years since California enacted Labor Code § 233, commonly referred to as the “kin care” statute. In essence, the statute requires employers to allow employees to use half of their sick leave accrual to care for certain relatives if they become ill. State law does not require employers to offer sick leave. But if they do, the must allow employees to use up to half their sick leave to care for a sick child, parent, spouse, or domestic partner.
But what happens when an employer doesn’t cap sick leave? That was the situation in McCarther v. Pacific Telesis Group (pdf). The plaintiffs worked under collective bargaining agreements that allowed employees to take up to five consecutive days off for each illness with pay. Once they returned to work, even for a day, they would again be entitled to another paid sick leave period of up to five days in a row. If there absences were excessive, they could be disciplined. But the system did not provide for accrual of sick time and, because there was no accrual, there was no cap.
If there’s no cap on paid sick leave, how do you apply the rule that employees get to take half their sick leave for kin care? The California Supreme Court said last week that you don’t. It ruled that “the reach of the statute is limited to employers that provide a measurable, banked amount of sick leave.” As a result, the court ruled that the employer in this situation wasn’t required to provide kin care to its employees.
So what is half of infinity? In this case, zero.