The California Supreme Court, in a ruling issued in San Francisco today, limited the application of a state sick-leave law known as the “kin care” statute.

The 1999 law requires employers that offer accrued sick leave to allow workers to use half their annual accumulated leave to care for spouses, children, parents or domestic partners.

California businesses are not required to provide sick leave, but those that do must comply with the “kin care” measure.

But in today’s ruling, the court said unanimously that the law applies only in cases in which companies offer a specific amount of sick leave that can be accrued, and not to situations in which businesses provide an indefinite, uncapped amount of leave.

The decision was made in a lawsuit filed in Alameda County Superior Court by telephone company workers Kimberly McArther and Juan Huerta, who worked for subsidiaries of AT&T Inc.

The workers’ union contract provided that employees could take an unlimited amount of leave, five days at a time. The contract also provided for disability leave if an employee misses more than a week at a time and for discipline if a worker has excessive absences.

McArther and Huerta argued in their lawsuit that they should be compensated for seven days McArther took off in 2004 to care for her ill children and five days Huerta was absent to care for his mother.

But the state high court, in a ruling written by Justice Carlos Moreno, said the language of the law showed that the requirement applied only when a company offered accrued or “banked” sick leave.

Otherwise, the court said, the law “would permit an employee to claim as kin care far more compensated time off than the employee would be entitled to claim if personally ill.”

Moreno wrote, “Such a result would be contrary to the plain intent” of the law, which provides only that employers allow workers to use half of specifically accrued leave for relatives.

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