• Mandatory Paid Sick Leave? It May Be The Law!
  • June 22, 2009 | Author: Sayaka Karitani
  • Law Firm: Alston & Bird LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Swine flu hit your office? 

    If the recently introduced "Healthy Families Act" makes its way through Congress, employers will with more than 15 workers will be obligated to provide up to 56 hours of paid sick or health-related leave per year for all of its U.S. employees. 

    The "Healthy Families Act," which had been introduced in the two previous sessions of Congress with little forward momentum, may find a more receptive audience this time around, with Senator Edward Kennedy sponsoring the bill in the Senate, and Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro sponsoring it in the House.  For those of you who were really paying attention, President Obama co-sponsored a similar 2007 bill and is likely to support this version.

    ELEMENTS OF THE HEALTHY FAMILIES ACT

    • The 2009-2010 Bill would require all employers with more than 15 workers to provide up to 56 hours of paid sick or health-related leave per year for all U.S. employees.
    • Leave begins accruing from the first day of employment, but may not be taken until an employee works for 60 days.
    • Up to 56 hours of paid sick leave would carry over from year to year, but an employer may permit additional accrual beyond the 56 hour minimum.
    • Employers are not required to pay terminated employees for unused paid time off.
    • If a separated employee is rehired within 12 months, that employee is entitled to the accrued leave already earned, and would be entitled to take sick leave immediately. 
    • This leave could be used for workers' own recovery time, caring for a sick family member or receiving preventative or diagnostic medical treatment. 
    • The latest version of this bill would allow victims of domestic violence to use the paid leave to seek help for abuse-related reasons.
    • A business's existing paid time off policy would not need to modified if it met or exceeded the minimum time periods and allow employees to take such leave for illness and other circumstances outlined in the Health Families Act.

    NOTICE AND ENFORCEMENT

    • Employers must post a notice of the substantive and remedial provisions of the Act. 
    • Aggrieved employees may bring civil claims to recoup unpaid time off benefits and to enforce the Act's discrimination and retaliation protections. 
    • The Secretary of Labor also has investigative and enforcement powers.
    • The Bill, if enacted, is effective six months after the Department of Labor issues required regulations.

    WHAT ABOUT CALIFORNIA?

    • In California, employers are currently not required to offer sick leave to employees, unless the employer is located in San Francisco County (which has a local ordinance requiring sick leave for all employees as of February 6, 2007).  California, however, does have a state disability insurance that provides short-term benefits to eligible workers who suffer a loss of wages when unable to work due to a non-work-related illness or injury or when medically disabled due to pregnancy or childbirth. 
    • In February 2009, California Assembly members introduced a bill similar to the Federal Healthy Families Act, entitled "Healthy Workplaces, Healthy Families Act of 2009" so that Californians can receive paid sick leave on a broader scale than just state disability benefits.  The Assembly bill is here.  See the summary on the www.paidsickdaysCA.org website .
    • Modeled after the San Francisco ordinance, the bill would require employers to allow employees to accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked up to 72 hours cap (or 40 hours cap for small business employers who employ fewer than 10 employees).  Leave begins accruing from the first day of employment, but may not be taken until an employee works for 90 days. 
    • Similar to the federal bill, the proposed new California leave can be used for workers' own recovery time, caring for a sick family member or receiving preventative or diagnostic medical treatment. 
    • This bill would also allow victims of domestic violence to use the paid leave to seek help for abuse-related reasons. 
    • The California State Assembly bill has recently progressed to the Assembly Appropriations Committee. 

    If either the federal or state Bill passes, most California employers can expect to add the cost of paid sick leaves to their budgets for 2010 if they do not currently have a paid sick leave policy in place.