Thursday, September 15, 2016

Paid Sick Leave – An Update

Since we last featured the subject of paid sick leave, it has remained a focus of interest for legislators at all levels of government.  Although we don’t yet know whether there will be a federal mandate requiring paid sick leave, employers need to stay aware of that possibility, as well as state and local laws that may affect them.

For now, there is no federal requirement for paid sick leave, although most employers are required to provide unpaid leave under the FLSA, the FMLA, or comparable state laws.  In addition, federal contractors are subject to an executive order requiring that they offer paid sick leave. Congress is currently considering the Healthy Families Act, which would require employers with 15 or more employees to allow workers to earn up to seven paid sick days each year.  The Department of Labor strongly supports the implementation of paid sick leave policies, and argues that employers and employees both benefit.

According to a recent publication from A Better Balance, an employee advocacy group, Connecticut, California, Massachusetts, Oregon, Vermont, the District of Columbia, one county, and 28 cities across the country have paid sick leave laws in place.  Who is covered, when the legislation became or will become effective, and what is required of employers under these laws varies from one jurisdiction to another.  For example, Vermont’s law covers workers employed for an average of no less than 18 hours per week, while Santa Monica, California’s ordinance covers those who work at least 2 hours per week. Many jurisdictions require that employees be allowed to use their sick leave to care for a child or other relative, but the specifics vary. In New York City, paid sick leave is accrued beginning on the first day of employment but can’t be used for 120 days, while under Vermont’s law, workers may have to wait a full year before using paid sick leave benefits.  A newly-passed St. Paul, Minnesota ordinance will become effective on July 1, 2017 for employers with 24 or more employees and on January 1, 2018 for employers with fewer than 23 employees.  All these variations—and others—matter, and require that employers know and understand the requirements of every jurisdiction in which they have employees.  For SHRM’s helpful analysis of California’s law one year after its implementation as well as compliance advice applicable to all employers, check out the articles here and here.

Employers should also keep in mind the overlap and interplay between unpaid leave mandates and paid leave requirements, and make sure that their policies and practices comply with both.
Many employers, of course, voluntarily offer paid sick leave or PTO.  According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 64% of private sector workers now receive at least some paid sick leave, and the number of covered workers continues to increase.  That leaves more than 41 million private sector employees, however, without any paid sick time.  The ongoing high level of legislative interest in passing paid sick leave laws is a reflection of the concerns of those 41 million.

Posted by Judy Langevin