Requires employers with more than 100 employees worldwide to provide two weeks of public health emergency leave to employees who work in San Francisco during a public health emergency and to vulnerable employees who primarily work outside during a Spare the Air alert.
What the Measure Would Do
Proposition G would require all employers with more than 100 employees worldwide to provide two weeks of public health emergency leave to San Francisco employees if a public health emergency is declared. Public health emergency leave would be available if employees were unable to work (including telework) due to the following circumstances:
- Continuing to work is at odds with the recommendations or requirements of a health order related to the public health emergency.
- The employee has been advised by a health care provider to isolate or quarantine.
- The employee is experiencing symptoms and seeking a medical diagnosis, or has a positive diagnosis, for a possible infectious, contagious or communicable disease associated with the public health emergency.
- The employee is caring for a family member who is subject to any of the above.
- The employee is caring for a family member whose school or place of care has been closed, or whose care provider is unavailable, due to the public health emergency.
- An air quality emergency is triggered by a Spare the Air alert, and the employee is a member of a vulnerable population and primarily works outdoors. Vulnerable populations include those who live with heart or lung disease; have respiratory problems including but not limited to asthma, emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease; are pregnant; or are 60 or older.
The federal government, the State of California and the City and County of San Francisco all passed temporary legislation requiring employers to provide additional paid sick leave to employees dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. Each piece of legislation was specifically tied to the ongoing pandemic and has since expired or is set to expire by September 2022. Under Prop. G, the city would not have to pass emergency paid sick leave laws related to any new public health emergencies because such policies would already be in place.
Air pollution leads to over 8,000 premature deaths a year in California.1 Spare the Air was created in 1991 by the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to alert residents when air quality is forecast to be unhealthy and to educate people about how to reduce air pollution. Spare the Air alerts are triggered when the air quality in one of the Bay Area’s five reporting zones is expected to exceed 100 AQI, which generally corresponds to the national air quality standard that the Environmental Protection Agency has set to protect public health. Since 2010, the number of annual Spare the Air alerts has ranged from three to 46, with a median of 13 alerts per year. The number of Spare the Air alerts will likely increase in the future due to more frequent wildfires. This measure would allow vulnerable populations who primarily work outside to take paid sick leave for up to two weeks when Spare the Air alerts are triggered.
Prop. G was put on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors. As an ordinance, it requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
People living with chronic health conditions and lower-income people would stand to benefit significantly from Prop. G. Those with chronic health issues are more likely to be vulnerable to the effects of another pandemic or other public health emergency. Additional paid leave would put them in a better position to deal with the effects of a future crisis.
In the event of a public health emergency, lower-income households are much less likely to be able to afford additional care, especially for children or people living with disabilities, than those with greater financial resources. As a result, they’re more likely to provide care for family members themselves. This initiative would ensure that those employees who have to take time off to care for family members during a public health emergency would be provided paid leave.
- Prop. G would remove a bureaucratic hurdle so that the city would not have to pass additional emergency paid sick leave laws during a future public health emergency.
- The measure would improve public health by ensuring that people could stay home when sick instead of going to work and potentially spreading an illness during a public health emergency.
- Families struggling with the loss of child care during a public health emergency would receive an additional benefit.
- Many people with underlying conditions who work outdoors would be able to protect their health without losing pay on Spare the Air days.
- Spare the Air alerts can be triggered by bad air quality anywhere in the region, not specifically in San Francisco. This means that emergency leave could apply on days when vulnerable employees are not necessarily at risk in the city, resulting in unnecessary costs to businesses.
- The measure does not clearly define how to determine whether a job is primarily outdoors, which may cause unnecessary confusion and litigation.
- Small to midsize businesses that employ many vulnerable workers might have to close temporarily due to a shortage of employees during Spare the Air alerts.
- Prop. G might increase the likelihood that businesses discriminate against vulnerable workers by not hiring them to work in jobs that are primarily outdoors, reducing the job opportunities for those workers.
Emergency paid sick leave saves lives. It ensures that families are able to care for their children, allows people with chronic conditions to isolate and represents a vital component of any strategy to slow the spread of an illness. Additionally, as climate change threatens the region with worsening air quality, having further protections for vulnerable workers is sound policy. However, this measure could place a significant financial burden on small businesses with a large employee base, such as restaurants. In the event of a future public health emergency, the Board of Supervisors can pass emergency leave legislation specific to the situation at hand.
1 California Air Resources Board, “Health & Air Pollution,” https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/resources/health-air-pollution.