On September 8, California rail workers’ unions and the California Labor Commissioner Lilia Garcia-Brower filed their opening appellate briefs arguing that the California sick pay law is not preempted by federal law and should protect rail workers in the state.

The appeal is of an October 2017 ruling by Hon. Kimberly J. Mueller that the federal Railroad Unemployment Insurance Act (RUIA) preempts California’s sick pay law because it provides sick leave for railroad employees. The RUIA differs from the state law in the circumstances it can be used and its duration. For instance, the RUIA is limited to one’s own illness, injury, or maternity leave. RUIA normal benefits can last up to 130 days in a benefit year but cannot surpass an employee’s base year earnings. Meanwhile, the California state law applies to other absences including a family member’s illness or to address interpersonal violence. For every year of employment, California sick law includes a minimum of three days, or 24 hours, of sick leave.

Commissioner Garcia-Brower and the unions argued that California’s sick pay law is outside of RUIA’s purview and thus is not preempted. The RUIA’s sick pay is similar to disability insurance as it provides benefits for a short period of time. However, paid sick leave is necessary for several other reasons, including absences to quarantine for COVID-19. Commissioner Garcia-Brower and the unions further argue that abiding by the California sick pay law does not disrupt interstate commerce or place a substantial economic burden on railroads.

If you are an employee and think you may not be receiving adequate paid sick leave, please feel free to reach out to Lebe Law.