Officially, America has no paid sick leave. This fact is stated in no uncertain terms on the website of the Department of Labor itself. So, why do we keep talking about this and making an issue of it? In reality, 61% of workers in America enjoy paid sick leave because employers voluntarily offer it to them.
We believe the continued discussion is driven by concerns that the cost of medical treatment, coupled with the loss of pay for time taken for medical appointments, is preventing the American worker from taking the necessary steps to regain health. However, times may be changing as witnessed by the paid sick leave laws promulgated in California and the District of Columbia.
California’s ‘Healthy’ Act:
Now, a new law in California makes it mandatory for employers to provide paid sick leave to all employees, including part-time, temporary and seasonal employees. The Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2014 comes into force from July 1, 2015 and mandates at least three paid sick days per year, on pain of statutory penalties and litigation for alleged violations.
How much Leave?
Leave eligibility accrues at 1 hour for every 30 hours worked and is carried over for all employees (exempt or non-exempt). It can be used from the 90th day of start of employment. It can also be used before it is accrued, should the employer allow it. Unused leave can be carried over to the next year. Employers also may limit the use of paid sick leave to 24 hours (or three workdays) in each year of employment.
Who is covered?
The law covers all private and most public employers – regardless of size. There are no exceptions for small employers. It applies to all employees who, on or after July 1, 2015, work in California for 30 or more days within a year from the start of their employment. Exceptions may apply to in-home supportive service workers, flight deck and cabin crew members of air carriers, and employees whose collective bargaining agreements provide them with paid leave benefits that exceed the law’s mandate.
When can the leave be used?
A covered employee gets to use accrued leave for the diagnosis, care or treatment of an existing health condition (for self or family member); and also when they fall prey to sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking.
Who is defined as a family member?
The term ‘family member’ is defined very broadly, extending beyond the definitions in the Family Medical Leave Act or the California Family Rights Act, to include:
When can leave be applied?
The law prescribes a reasonable advance notice, if need for leave is foreseeable – otherwise it can be provided as soon as practicable.
The law prohibits discrimination and retaliation, and expects any previously terminated and re-hired employee to be entitled to gain the right to use the previously accrued but unused leave. The onus of informing workers of these new leave entitlements lies with the employer. Non-compliance with the act carries both administrative and judicial remedies.
The District of Columbia has also enacted an Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act which will be effective retroactively from February 22, 2014 allowing all workers (including temporary workers) to take paid sick leave after working90 days. The law is agnostic to employer size and allows former temporary workers to claim credit for time worked with their employer on a trial basis. Employers are expected to notify all workers of these new provisions.
Will this type of legislation take hold nationwide? Opponents point to the increased cost of doing business in states that mandate paid sick leave. To avoid the entire issue, some companies have moved away from the concept of vacation time, simply offering “paid time off”. By doing so, they claim that they are – indeed – providing paid sick leave.
While others support this type of legislation, sceptics question whether it will address the underlying issue of “subtle” pressure to be “always on” at work. Numerous studies indicate that American workers do not use their annual allotted vacation time, and that checking email and participating in conference calls during vacations, evenings or weekends has gone beyond “commonplace” to “expected’. Many workers indicate a reluctance to take time off for medical appointments for fear of being viewed as having a limitation that would limit their ability to succeed at work.
Please share your thoughts on this topic. Is this a significant issue? If so, will legislation satisfactorily address the issue? Has your company implemented any innovative programs that would serve as best practices to others? Let us know.
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