Mandatory Sick Leave Laws Add Complexity for Multi-State Employers
Within the past several weeks, three states – California, Massachusetts and Oregon – have joined Connecticut and other jurisdictions in requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. While the overall intent of these laws is similar from state to state – to guarantee most workers at least a few days of paid, job-protected leave each year for personal or family illness – these laws vary on a number of details, including:
- Which employers are covered — both public and private? For-profit and nonprofit?
- Which employees are covered — usually based on hours worked and in some cases how long they have been employed.
- How much paid time is required — typically one hour accrued per 30 hours or 40 hours worked up to a total of 24 to 40 hours per year.
- What the hours can be used for besides personal illness — such as the illness of other family members (and which ones) and in some cases, to deal with domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking.
- When the employee is eligible to use the accrued hours.
- Whether unused hours must carry over at the end of the year or can be forfeited.
- Whether unused hours must be paid out upon termination.
- How the paid sick leave requirements work within a broader PTO plan.
- Whether the employee has a private right of action for violations, or must rely on the state labor department for help.
Of course, there have long been variations in employment laws from state to state and in some cases at the city level, but 2015 has been a banner year for more variations, not just regarding sick leave but also in pregnancy discrimination/accommodation and other areas. Employers with employees located in multiple states increasingly need to pay close attention to each jurisdiction’s laws, and determine how to respond to these variations from a policy and enforcement standpoint. Often, this will require a strategic decision between adopting a single company-wide set of policies based on the “most generous jurisdiction” – a solution which provides administrative simplicity but increased cost – or to adopt tailored policies for each state and make a commitment to staying current on each of them.
Nick Miller, Summer Associate