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Number of Paid Sick Leave Laws Expands Rapidly in 2016

Workers in San Francisco have had access to compulsory paid sick time since 2006, when that city enacted the first paid sick time ordinance in the United States. In the absence of federal action establishing a federal paid leave law, the movement to mandate paid sick leave for American workers has shifted to a patchwork of state and municipal laws around the nation and has caught fire over past two years. As of January 1, 2014, only five jurisdictions had operative paid sick time laws. As of November 30, 2016, there are 39 separate paid sick leave laws currently in effect or becoming effective in 2017 or 2018.

While the crux of these laws is the same—they all provide time off for an employee’s health needs as well as the care of family members—the particulars of the laws vary in numerous instances. Many of these various laws have different amounts of leave that an employer must permit each year, different eligibility requirements, different qualifying reasons for leave, various definitions of covered “family members,” and different requirements on accrual, use, verification, and carryover. The challenges faced by employers attempting to comply with all of the various sick leave laws will increase in 2017 as additional paid leave laws take effect, and even more laws are passed.

In addition to the eight laws that took effect this year, another 10 new laws will take effect in 2017. Some key distinctions of those laws are as follows:

  • Federal Contractors: Effective January 1, 2017, employees who work on certain types of federal contracts will be entitled up to 56 hours of paid sick leave per year. Defining which employees are covered and which are not, and how to deal with employees who work only part of their time or year on a qualifying federal contract will be a challenge. “Family member” under the executive order is defined to include common law spouses, domestic partners, and persons whose close association with an employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.

  • Arizona: On July 1, 2017, Arizona will become the sixth state to implement a statewide paid sick leave statute. The statute has a tiered accrual cap based on the number of employees. Of note, employees may take time off under the statute for exposure to a communicable disease.

  • Vermont: Vermont’s paid sick leave statute takes effect on January 1, 2017, though small employers may defer compliance until 2018. Employees accrue paid sick time at a rate of one hour for every 52 hours worked up to 24 hours per year and then increasing to 40 hours per year beginning in 2019. Employers may impose a one-year waiting period on use.

  • Berkeley, California: The Berkeley ordinance takes effect in October 2017. In addition to the usual forms of leave, the ordinance allows leave to care for a “service dog.” The ordinance has a tiered accrual cap based on the number of employees.

  • Chicago and Cook County, Illinois: Effective July 1, 2017, employers will be required to provide paid sick time at a rate of one hour for every 40 worked up to 40 hours of paid sick time per year. Employers may impose a 180-day waiting period on use for new employees. “Family member” covers individuals whose close association with an employee is the equivalent of a family relationship.

  • Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota: Also effective July 1, 2017, employers must provide sick time, which must be paid time off, except for Minneapolis employers with five or fewer employees. The ordinance does not proscribe any limits on use, though employers may cap accrual. Among other purposes, leave may be taken for closures due to inclement weather.

  • Santa Monica, California: Santa Monica will become the sixth city in California to require paid sick leave, effective January 1, 2017. Accrual caps vary based on the number of employees, and increase in 2018.

  • Spokane, Washington: As of January 1, 2017, employers with 10 or more employees will be required to permit employees to take at least 40 hours of paid sick time per year. Smaller employers may limit use to 24 hours per year. In addition to the standard reasons for leave, time off may be taken for bereavement.

What Employers Should Do Now

The end of the year is a good time to ensure compliance with existing and new laws by reviewing leave policies and practices and by training managers to be aware of applicable local leave requirements. It is a common misconception by employers that their provision of paid leave (even generous amounts of paid leave) obviates the need for further consideration of compliance with paid leave laws.

Existing policies often do not comply in all respects with newer statutory leave policies in terms of eligibility (length of service and full-time vs. part-time employee eligibility), accrual rates, qualifying reasons for leave, restrictions on employer verification, and carryover requirements. The passage of additional new laws makes it particularly important to evaluate whether further changes are needed to make an existing policy compliant. Employers that have previously adopted separate policies for each jurisdiction with a paid sick leave ordinance may also want to reassess whether the administrative ease of a global sick leave policy makes sense. Similarly, federal contractors and subcontractors should also determine if the new federal contractor paid leave requirements apply to their employees, even if the employees work in a city or state that has an existing paid sick leave law.

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About this Author

Marc A. Mandelman, Epstein Becker Green, Workforce Management Lawyer, Restructuring Strategy Attorney
Member

MARC A. MANDELMAN is a Member of the Firm in the Employment, Labor, and Workforce Management practice, in the New York office of Epstein Becker Green. He represents a variety of clients—including major corporations in the financial, insurance, fashion, retail, publishing, technology, and health care field—in all aspects of labor and employment relations.

Mr. Mandelman:

  • Routinely advises clients on designing and implementing restructuring strategies and the management of litigation risks associated with...

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Amy B. Messigian, Epstein Becker Green, Employer Representation, Los Angeles
Senior Attorney

AMY B. MESSIGIAN is a Senior Attorney in the Labor and Employment practice, in the firm's Los Angeles office. She represents employers in the health care, manufacturing, hospitality, pest control, entertainment, retail, and transportation industries, among others.

Ms. Messigian:

  • Represents management in single and multi-plaintiff litigation, including the defense of wage and hour, discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, and accommodation claims, and in matters before the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement, the Workers' Compensation Appeals Board, and other administrative agencies

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