Remember, once San Francisco's Public Health Emergency declaration for COVID expires on Feb. 28, the city's Public Health Leave Ordinance — the law that made COVID-related PHEL possible — still remains in place (PDF). It means that if the state or San Francisco declares another public health emergency for another contagious disease, like it did for COVID back in 2020, and for mpox in 2022, eligible San Francisco employees can once again access PHEL when they are "unable to work or telework due to public health guidelines, symptoms or diagnosis, among other related reasons," confirms Mawuli Tugbenyoh, deputy director of policy and external affairs for San Francisco's Department of Human Resources.
What are the reasons I can claim this paid COVID sick leave in San Francisco?
You can claim PHEL for COVID through Feb. 28 if you meet the criteria above, and if you can't work (or telework from home) for reasons including:
You've tested positive for COVID.
You have symptoms of COVID and are seeking a diagnosis.
You've been advised by a health care provider to isolate or quarantine after a COVID exposure.
You can also claim PHEL to take time off work to care for a family member who:
Has tested positive for COVID.
Has been exposed to COVID and advised to isolate.
Cannot attend school or their child care facility because of COVID-related closures.
Cannot be cared for by their usual care provider because of COVID.
How much COVID sick pay does PHEL offer?
Through Feb. 28, PHEL offers eligible full-time employees up to 80 hours of paid leave for COVID-related reasons — equivalent to up to two weeks off work.
What if you're part-time, or your weekly hours vary?
In that case, the amount of PHEL hours you can take for COVID-related reasons will be pro-rated by your employer, and calculated based on the average number of hours you've worked over a two-week period.
What if you didn't know you were entitled to claim PHEL after California's COVID Supplemental Sick Pay Leave policy expired on Jan. 1, and instead took PTO for one of those valid reasons above (for example, you tested positive for COVID and were unable to work)?
Unlike with the state's own COVID sick pay law, which specifically stated that employees could claim back any PTO that should have been taken as COVID sick pay instead, this issue seems to be more of a gray area when it comes to PHEL. Speak to your boss or your HR department, if you have one, to see what's possible.
When is San Francisco's COVID sick leave policy expiring?
San Francisco's paid COVID leave law is only in place while the city's COVID Public Health Emergency Declaration is in place. And on Thursday, the San Francisco Department of Public Health announced that the city would end its Public Health Emergency Declaration on Feb. 28.
This means that starting March 1, even if you're eligible, you won't be able to claim PHEL for COVID from your employer.
The city's definitions of "family member" include not just biological relationships, but also relationships "resulting from adoption, step relationships, and foster care relationships." As far as PHEL is concerned, San Francisco considers that a "family member" can be:
Your child (including a child of your domestic partner and/or a child for whom you stand in loco parentis)
Your parent (includes a person who stood in loco parentis for you when you were a minor)
The parent or guardian of your spouse or registered domestic partner
Your legal guardian
Your legal ward
Your registered domestic partner under any state or local law
Your "designated person" can also count as your family member for claiming PHEL. What this means: If you don't have a spouse or registered domestic partner, you can designate one person that you want to use your paid sick leave to care for. The big caveat: You have to select your designated person before you claim PHEL to care for them, and only have the opportunity to choose a designated person on an annual basis. Speak with your boss or your HR department, if you have one, about selecting a designated person.
Those Cal/OSHA regulations related specifically to COVID-positive workers who present an in-person infection risk to their colleagues and required businesses to "exclude" employees who tested positive for COVID-19 or who'd been exposed to a positive case at work. But like California's own Supplemental Paid Sick Leave policy, that law also has expired as of Jan. 1, 2023.
Can I claim San Francisco's COVID sick leave if I work from home?
The paid leave is intended to grant you time off work to recover from your COVID infection, no matter where you do that work.
I spoke to my employer and they're giving me a hard time. What should I do?
Always communicate through writing ...
Make sure that when you reach out to your employer to ask for sick leave, you make the request in writing; that can include email or a text message.
You can also ask for these hours via a verbal conversation with your boss, but be aware: That could make it harder for you to get compensated if your employer later says they don’t remember approving those hours or that you don’t qualify.
If your boss is telling you to use up your regular sick leave first ...
Veronica Chavez, interim workers' rights directing attorney at Centro Legal de la Raza, a legal services nonprofit in Oakland, says she's seen businesses tell their workers who caught COVID outside of work to first use up their regular sick leave before touching their COVID sick pay — which "should not be the case," she said.
San Francisco's Public Health Emergency Leave is specifically designed to apply to time off needed because of COVID, as this disease is the reason for the city's Public Health Emergency Declaration that prompted the Public Health Emergency Leave Ordinance.
If your employer insists you don't need to use COVID sick pay because you work from home ...
Even if your human resources department isn't outright denying you COVID sick leave, unfortunately you may find that you're being discouraged one way or another from claiming it — especially if you work from home.
You could find your employer pressuring you to keep "working through" your COVID infection at home, or to otherwise limit the amount of days you claim as paid COVID sick leave.
Remember, unless you work in a health care setting, it's unlikely your employer or their HR department are themselves medical professionals, and they're not privy to your medical history or risk level. Therefore, the amount of time your employer thinks you "should" claim as COVID sick leave — or comparing it to the amount of time other employees have taken to recover from COVID — is irrelevant here. If you need advice, and have access to health care, consult your doctor on how long you should stay off work because you have COVID.
If your employer says their business is too small for you to claim COVID sick leave ...
Although Public Health Emergency Leave is available only to employees who work for a San Francisco employer with 100 or more staff, not all of those employees have to be in San Francisco — or even within the United States.
If your boss says you're otherwise not eligible to claim COVID sick leave ...
You can also find resources and fact sheets about your labor rights on OLSE's website, sfgov.org/olse.
Remember, OLSE says that if you assert your right to receive public health emergency leave, you're protected from retaliation. The agency also reminds employers that the city can investigate possible violations and get access to employer records. OLSE also can enforce these public health emergency leave requirements "by ordering reinstatement of employees, payment of paid leave unlawfully withheld, and payment of penalties."
If you're worried about pushing back against your employer ...
Chavez, attorney with Centro Legal de la Raza, understands that some workers may feel nervous about having these complicated conversations, especially if they fear that their employer will retaliate against them by cutting their wages or hours, or firing them.
Remember, San Francisco's Office of Labor Standards Enforcement also says that if you assert your right to receive Public Health Emergency Leave, you're protected from retaliation. The agency also reminds employers that the city can investigate possible violations and get access to employer records. OLSE also can enforce these public health emergency leave requirements "by ordering reinstatement of employees, payment of paid leave unlawfully withheld, and payment of penalties."
If you're still hesitant about filing a formal complaint when your employer refuses to accommodate your sick leave request or if you haven't heard back from the Labor Commissioner's Office, you have other options.
There have been a few instances where Chavez and her office have helped workers secure COVID sick leave by writing a letter to the employer. "Turn to attorneys or someone who's willing to assist with a letter where they can put it in language from the law that states very clearly what the employer is required to do," she said.
Here are some organizations that offer free legal aid to workers in the Bay Area: