Throughout 2020 and into the beginning months of 2021, organizations have been focused on complying with COVID-related leave per the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). The FFCRA, which expired on December 31, 2020, required covered employers to provide employees up to two-weeks (80-hours) of paid sick leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19. While the FFCRA has expired and organizations are no longer required to provide employees with paid leave for reasons related to COVID-19, the list of states and cities that are creating paid-sick-leave laws that extend beyond the pandemic is rapidly growing. As with any new law, compliance may be difficult, especially for organizations who have employees in multiple states. Examples of paid sick leave laws that specific local governments have passed mandate higher accrual rates than one-hour of sick leave per 40-hour workweek, or have different rules depending on organization size. Some laws may apply to businesses with a specific number of employees in the jurisdiction, and others are triggered based on the number of employees the organization has on payroll at a given time. Additionally, some states offer additional paid family and medical leave, which may or may not provide job protections. The following are important developments that organizations should note about paid sick leave laws.
While federal law does not require organizations to offer any paid sick leave, 16 states to include: Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Washington D.C. have all passed laws that require (or will require) certain organizations to offer paid sick leave to employees in order to recover from an illness, or to seek medical care or care for a sick family member. Each state’s paid sick leave laws differ with regards to who is covered, reasons an employee is able to utilize paid sick leave, paid sick leave accrual rates, and the amount of time a new employee must wait before they may use any paid sick leave they have accrued. In addition to the standard reasons an employee may use paid sick leave, such as recovering from an illness, seeking medical care, etc. many of the state’s paid sick leave laws allow employees who are targets of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking, to use their accrued paid sick leave for “safe time”. In addition to paid sick leave, in the spring of 2019, Maine became the first state to pass a paid leave law that requires certain organizations to provide paid leave for employees to use for any reason such as vacations, illnesses, etc. The state of Nevada also has passed a broader law which allows paid leave for certain employees for any reason. It is critical to note that paid sick leave laws may apply to the state in which an employee resides, not simply the state in which the organization operates.
To further the difficulty for organizations to abide by specific state laws that require paid sick leave for employees, many local governments have also passed their own paid sick leave laws. Local paid sick leave laws are likely more generous than the state law, and may even be in a state in which there is no state paid sick leave law in place. Under the current statewide paid sick leave law in California, all employees who work in the state of California for the same employer for at least 30-days in a 12-month period are entitled to accrue one hour of paid leave for every 30-hours that they work. However, at least nine different localities in California have their own paid sick leave requirements that differ from the statewide paid sick leave law and offer a greater benefit to employees. Another example of a local paid sick leave law offering a greater benefit to employees than a statewide law is in the state of Washington. The state’s paid sick leave law entitles employees to one hour of paid sick leave per 40-hours worked. However, Seattle has a tiered system that increases the amount of paid sick leave an employee accrues as well as the amount of paid leave an employee may carry over into the next calendar year.
In addition to state and local governments requiring certain organizations to provide paid sick leave to employees, there are also states that provide paid family and medical leave which provides leave for an employee’s or an employee’s specified relative’s serious health condition and bonding after birth, adoption or placement of a foster child, similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). States with paid family and medical leave include: California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and Washington D.C. Like other forms of paid sick leave, each state has its own rules surrounding the use of paid family and medical leave, job protection and payment, covered employers, and reasons for use.
With all paid leave laws in mind to include state paid sick leave laws, local government paid sick leave laws, and states that offer paid family and medical leave, it is easy to understand how it may be a difficult task for organizations to manage the numerous paid sick leave laws in order to remain compliant. It is important for organizations to research which paid leave laws apply to them and when they apply and have a properly designed and consistently followed process for administering each type of paid leave. Organizations would be wise to create written policies that cover all paid leave policies, regardless of whether the law requires a written policy as this creates clear guidelines with regards to who is entitled to leave, how to request the leave, and how much leave an employee may be entitled to. In drafting the policies, organizations must carefully identify all applicable paid leave laws at the federal, state, and local levels.
Ultimately, it is the organization’s responsibility to ensure that paid leave laws are followed. Navigating the ever-changing federal, state, and local sick leave laws may be challenging for organizations. Organizations must keep abreast of any new laws or guidance and consult with their human resources department and/or legal counsel to ensure their sick leave polices comply with all applicable federal, state and local laws.
For additional information on paid sick leave laws, please contact us at www.NewFocusHR.com.
Written by: Patrick McKenna, SHRM-CP