Many trends function like fads — they briefly capture a slice of the national zeitgeist, but then quickly fade into obsolescence. The world of HR can be equally susceptible to the allure of the shiniest new thing.
Don’t believe me? Well, how often are you talking about Six Sigma in your workplace nowadays? Where’s the beef, indeed.
However, there is a national trend that’s gaining an increasingly prominent toe-hold in the world of employee rights and benefits — mandatory paid sick leave. And unlike other trends, this one is likely to become the norm, rather than a punchline for some snarky blogger.
At the national level there has been a push for some time to pass a law requiring private employers to provide paid sick leave to employees. However, the current level of political discord has prevented anything from making it to the President’s desk.
As a result, two related trends have developed. First, the President has used his Executive authority to require almost every private employer that contracts with the federal government directly or indirectly (such as by providing goods or services to a customer who contracts with the government) to provide a set amount of paid sick leave to its employees who perform work in connection with the contract. While these contractor rules are still in a proposed format, they’re expected to be finalized in the near future for contracts renewed or entered into starting in 2017.
Second, a few states and quite a few municipalities are imposing similar obligations. Most recently, Minneapolis passed an ordinance that is typical of most of the paid sick leave laws currently in circulation, so even if you don’t have employees performing work in Minneapolis, if your state or city eventually imposes such a requirement (and there’s a reasonable chance it will), then it will likely look a lot like Minneapolis’.
Here are the basic requirements of the Minneapolis ordinance, along with a point-for-point comparison to the proposed federal contractor requirements:
1 hour of sick leave accrues for every 30 hours worked (Feds: The same)
Maximum annual accrual is 48 hours (Feds: Annual accrual = 56 hours)
Unused time rolls over into the next year with a maximum sick leave bank cap of 80 hours (Feds: Max accrual cap can be set at 56 hours, although employers who front-load sick leave at the beginning of the year may have banks that exceed 56 hours)
Sick leave starts accruing immediately upon hire, but employers can impose a 90-day waiting period before it can be used (Feds: The same)
Unused time does not have to be paid out upon termination. However, employees rehired within 90 days must have their unused sick leave balances reinstated (Feds: Reinstatement must occur if the employee is rehired within 12 months). The time can be used to take leave for:
Preventive care, or the diagnosis or treatment of the employee’s ailments (Feds: The same)
The preventive care, or the diagnosis or treatment of the ailments of the employee’s child, step-child, adopted child, foster child, adult child, spouse, sibling, parent, step-parent, mother-in-law, father-in-law, grandchild, grandparent, guardian, ward, members of the employee's household, or registered domestic partner. (Feds: The same, but the list of family members is slightly different, and includes the employee’s child, parent, spouse, domestic partner, or “any other individual related by blood or affinity whose close association with the employee is the equivalent of a family relationship”) In both cases, “child” probably includes children of any age
Dealing with domestic abuse, sexual assault, or stalking of the employee or the employee’s qualifying family members (Feds: The same)
Time off for school or daycare closures (Feds: Don’t mandate the use of sick time for this purpose)
Employees can be required to provide at least 7 days of notice for foreseeable absences (Feds: The same)
Employees can’t be required, as a condition of sick leave usage, to find subs or replacements for the shifts they will be missing (Feds: The same)
A mandatory poster will be created, and notice of sick leave rights must be included in employee handbooks (Feds: Includes the same notice obligations, plus many more)
Employers can substitute their own paid-time off (PTO) or sick practices, so long as they’re equal to, or more generous than, the requirements of the ordinance (Feds: The same)
Additionally, the Minneapolis ordinance applies to employers with 6 or more employees (new, non-franchise employers, and employers with fewer than 6 employees have to provide a set amount of unpaid time off), and to employees who work 80 or more hours in the City of Minneapolis during the calendar year. Covered federal contractors are those that have 50 or more employees, and at least $50,000 in annual revenue directly or indirectly from governmental sources, and their covered employees are those who perform any work on the contracted project.
First, you need to figure out whether you are a covered employer. For instance, a lot of our clients are unaware that they have federal contracting obligations because they don’t directly contract with the government, but one or more of their customers does. Similarly, your company may be located entirely outside the state of Minnesota, but if you have employees that travel to Minneapolis frequently enough for business to get past the 80 hour mark, then you’ll need to decide what you’re going to do by way of compliance.
Second, if you are covered by a mandatory sick leave requirement, you need to evaluate your current leave policies to make sure they comply. A lot of our clients are likely to find that their current policies cover many of the requirements, but fall short on at least a few, such as the roll-over requirements, the prohibition on finding subs to cover absences, and the numerous reasons for which sick leave can be used (employers with PTO policies shouldn’t have this last problem, since PTO usually can be used for any purpose).
Third, if it turns out that your current policies aren’t compliant, you’ll have to decide whether the revisions you make to your leave policies will apply to all employees, or just those who work in Minneapolis or on federal contracts.
Fourth, decide if you need to update your handbook, and keep an eye out for the posters that will be coming soon.
More and more mandatory sick leave requirements are cropping up every day, so there’s probably no better time than the present to start preparing, and there are a number of ways that we can help. If you are a current Hotline client, give us a call, and we’d be glad to discuss your compliance obligations (if you’re not a Hotline client, but would like to become one, contact us). Regardless of whether you are a client, you should consider signing up for our free Employment Law for Non-Lawyers webinar series, in which we will discuss not only these requirements, but all aspects of employment laws in the workplace.
James provides guidance to employers on a variety of topics with a focus on employment, risk management and liability issues. In addition to working directly with employers, he regularly conducts in-depth training through webinars, at client sites, and through the University of Minnesota’s Continuin
James provides guidance to employers on a variety of topics with a focus on employment, risk management and liability issues. In addition to working directly with employers, he regularly conducts in-depth training through webinars, at client sites, and through the University of Minnesota’s Continuing Ed program. He previously was a plaintiff’s attorney and brings that perspective into his advice to employers. James received his law degree from the University of Minnesota and his BA from Washington University in St. Louis.
On May 11, 2014, the governor of Minnesota signed the Women’s Economic Security Act (WESA), a bill that will require Minnesota employers to make dramatic changes to their employment policies and practices.
While WESA directly impacts employers who conduct business in Minnesota, the changes follow plans by federal and local governments to expand legal protections for women and other employees. For this reason, employers in other jurisdictions should pay close attention to these national and state law trends.
“The only thing that is constant is change.”
Turns out that dusty old Greek philosophers occasionally say profound things (Heraclitus also said that a man’s character is his destiny). And since the Greeks are considered the fathers of democracy and were responsible for no small number of laws themselves, it seems an appropriate departure point to talk about the constantly changing landscape of employment laws.
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