By Kate Cagle

Sick days will start adding up for hotel and restaurant and workers in Santa Monica at the start of the New Year, but that doesn’t mean employees will feel ready to cash them in.

Starting on January 1st, companies in Santa Monica with more than 26 employees will have to offer 5 days of paid sick leave. Smaller businesses are required to give 4 days, or 32 hours.

While the city is reaching out to businesses about the new ordinance, community organizers started talking to employees around the busy Third Street Promenade three months ago. At that time, few people had learned a new California law allowed them to call in sick when they’re not feeling well or need to take care of a loved one.

“It’s really been the norm in the service industry for workers to not have any time off. It’s not only a policy change, but there’s a cultural change,” said community organizer Sophia Cheng who works with the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Los Angeles.

One of the challenges: restaurant employees typically get their schedules week by week, so there’s a fear that taking a paid day off may result in a bad schedule in the future.

The new ordinance requires more paid time off than existing California law. The ordinance was passed with the city’s new minimum wage law, which will give minimum wage employees are raise in July 2017, up to $12 an hour from $10.50.

Employees will accrue one hour for every 30 hours they work. The ordinance also allows those employees to carry over accrued days from year to year. Service workers can watch the days add up on their pay stubs.

In California, employees must get 24 hours, or 3 days, of paid sick leave. The State will also force businesses to give their minimum wage workers a dollar raise every year until the minimum wage reaches $15 an hour in 2023, three years after Santa Monica workers will already be making that amount.

“We have a City Council that really cares about improving the lives of Santa Monicans and city workers,” said city spokesperson Constance Farrow regarding the city’s aggressive new ordinance.

While community organizers like Cheng support the City’s effort, she added that it’s up to businesses and managers to make sure their employees feel comfortable calling in sick.

“I think it’s helpful when management is proactive and I think it’s helpful when more employees take it,” Cheng said.

Paid sick leave is seen as a public health benefit, to discourage service employees who work with food from going to work when they could spread illnesses. Under the ordinance and the state law, employees do not have to provide a doctor’s note nor find a replacement.

By 2018, Santa Monica employee sick days will go up again, nearly doubling from 40 hours to 72, for businesses with 26 employees or more. Smaller businesses will be required to allow 40 hours of paid time off.

The ordinance prohibits retaliation against employees who take time off under the minimum wage ordinance. Workers can complain to the city or file civil claims if they feel their rights are being violated.