California Food Workers Receive Supplemental Protections

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH
California food workers

Part of the Food Policy Snapshot Series

Policy name: Executive Order N-51-20 (COVID-19 Supplemental Paid Sick Leave)

Overview: On April 16, Governor Gavin Newsom of California signed an executive order to provide additional sick leave for food workers at companies with more than 500 employees.  

Location: California, USA

Population: 39.9 million

Food policy category: Food services; Preventative health

Program goals: To keep food service workers safe, healthy, and paid during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How it works: The executive order fills a gap in the April 1 federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which requires companies with fewer than 500 employees to provide two weeks of paid sick leave to anyone who is unable to work for reasons related to COVID-19. 

Under Governor Newsom’s order, food service workers at companies with more than 500 employees, including grocery store employees, farm workers, delivery drivers, and fast food drivers are also now entitled to up to two weeks of paid sick leave if they fall ill from COVID-19 or need to self-isolate after exposure to the virus. 

Full-time employees will receive up to 80 hours of paid leave, and part-time workers will receive 14 times the average number of hours they have worked over the previous six months (or over the length of time they have been working, if less than six months). 

Food service workers will also be allowed to wash their hands every 30 minutes or as needed. 

The order will stay in place as long as California’s stay at home order remains in effect. 

Progress to date: The executive order was signed on April 16, 2020. 

Why it is important: Employees of the food service sector are considered essential workers under Governor Newsom’s stay at home order, because the ability to access food is a basic necessity. Therefore, these front-line workers are not able to stay home and isolate themselves from others who may be carrying the coronavirus. They are risking their health and safety and that of their families by going to work and coming in contact with hundreds of people every day. 

Many food service workers do not have access to paid sick leave, but during the current pandemic, it is important that they be encouraged to stay home if they or others with whom they live are sick. Without paid leave, workers may feel as if they have no choice but to work even when not feeling well. If food service workers go to work while exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, they could infect numerous people and continue the spread of the illness. The addition of paid sick leave for these front-line workers will help them feel more financially secure if they need to take time off to recover from illness or self-isolate, and will thereby help slow the spread of COVID-19.  

Program/Policy initiated: The order became effective immediately after its signing on April 16. 

Point of contact: 
Office of Governor Gavin Newsom
Phone: (916) 445-2841

Similar practices: In March 2020, several chain food providers voluntarily began providing paid sick leave for their employees. The federal law mentioned above also provides paid leave for employees of smaller companies in all industries. 

Evaluation: Evaluation of this executive order has not yet begun. 

Learn more:


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