Posted on August 11, 2016

What to Expect If Your State or City Passes Paid Sick Leave

While only five states and the District of Columbia have passed paid sick leave laws, more and more municipalities—most recently Los Angeles, San Diego, and Chicago—are passing ordinances that require employers to provide paid sick time. Paid sick leave is clearly a trend—one we can expect to continue. While each paid sick leave law has its own quirks and details, there are some commonalities that we have seen as more laws go into effect. If paid sick leave comes to your city or state, here are some things you can expect:

1. Employer size may determine requirements.
Because of the financial burden new legal requirements can put on employers, smaller employers are sometimes exempt or have more time to comply—sometimes, but not always. In Massachusetts and Oregon, for example, smaller employers can offer unpaid leave instead of paid time; but in California, employers of any size must offer paid leave.

2. The law will likely address time-tracking, accrual of sick time, and use of sick time.
Though there are some exceptions, in most of the laws passed so far, employers can choose whether to front-load the entire amount for the year or to have employees accrue sick leave. In most cases, employees accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours worked. The total amount of time allowed for sick leave varies—24 hours or three days in California to 40 hours in Massachusetts and Oregon to 72 hours in several municipalities in California. So far, every paid sick leave law requires employees to be able to use paid sick leave for their own care and for the care of family members.

3. Employees who take sick time are protected.
Sick leave laws typically forbid employers from interfering with or retaliating against an employee using sick leave. The protections include prohibiting employers from taking disciplinary action or negative employment action for sick leave use, from having employees find someone to cover their shift, and from requiring an employee to make up hours taken as sick leave.

4. Clarifications sometimes follow the law’s effective date.
Sometimes a law isn’t clear about the exact obligations for employers or their options when administering the program. For example, as employers across California worked to amend policies and procedures in preparation for the state’s paid sick leave law, they raised questions about ambiguities in the law’s text and hurdles to implementation. The California State Legislature responded with a new assembly bill that clarified the state’s sick leave law. In this case, the clarification came after the paid sick leave law went into effect. It's also common to see the legislature task an administrative agency with creating rules for implementing and enforcing the new law.

Paid sick leave is still a fairly new phenomenon, but it’s gaining momentum, especially at the municipal level. It will very likely be the norm someday, so it may be worth thinking about sooner rather than later, especially if your city or state has proposed this kind of regulation.


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