By Julie Watts

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – Starting Friday, millions of Americans may be forced to choose between staying home without pay after being exposed to COVID or risk exposing their coworkers.

That’s because both state and federal COVID supplemental paid sick-leave protections expired at midnight.

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From the grocery store to the office, all California workers were entitled to two weeks of paid COVID sick leave in 2020. It was intended to reduce the spread.

Today, California workers now essentially lose the right to take any time off for COVID if they didn’t catch it at work.

For businesses with fewer than 500 people, the Federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act expired on the 31st along with the federal requirement to provide supplemental paid sick leave (SPSL).

The new federal relief bill offers a temporary tax credit until March to those smaller businesses that choose voluntarily offer the leave. But it is no longer mandatory and advocates with the California Work & Family Coalition say employees that choose to stay home due to COVID may now be at risk of getting fired.

California’s supplemental paid sick leave (SPSL) requirements, for larger companies with more than 500 employees, was tied to the federal legislation. So it expired with the federal legislation at midnight along with most city ordinances.

“We’re going to ask people that are living paycheck to paycheck to make a very difficult decision: protecting their coworkers or making sure that their family can get fed,” said labor and employment attorney Keven Cleveland.

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It’s a growing public health concern in light of the new, more contagious COVID strain.

California Assemblyman Ash Kalra said a number of law makers tried to prevent this.

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Kalra introduced COVID sick-leave legislation earlier this year but it faced tough opposition from the chamber of commerce and never made it to the governor’s desk.

“Is there anything in the works right now?” asked CBS13 Investigative Reporter Julie Watts.” Is it possible that beginning (Friday) we will have paid sick leave for California workers?”

“Well, it’s possible for the governor to act through executive order,” Kalra Responded. “However, this type of order would also require budget funding.

The governor has not indicated he will take up the issue. Kalra explained, due to the funding component, it would have to go through the legislature anyway.

He believes any sick leave legislation would likely face tough opposition from the business community.

For now, many workers are faced with two options: file for disability and fight the state’s unemployment backlog or risk infecting others at work.

Cleveland says people who get COVID at work will likely be covered by workers’ comp and Cal-OSHA regulations, but for everyone else,  employers are no longer required to offer two weeks of paid COVID leave.

“It becomes non-mandatory,” said Cleveland.

Existing California law does entitle all workers to three sick days a year but it’s up to your boss whether you can use vacation or other paid time off for COVID.

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Workers who are currently on COVID SPSL can continue the paid leave into the new year.

Julie Watts