United States: Paid Sick Leave

Last Updated: October 7 2016
Article by Rachel C. Schumacher

While the trend toward state and local governments offering paid sick time may keep workplaces healthier and give workers reason to be glad, it presents new challenges for the business owners, managers and HR professionals who must navigate the growing quagmire of different paid sick leave laws in this country. 

Currently, no federal law requires private employers to provide paid sick leave. But, that is only one piece of the puzzle, as both state and local governments recently have passed laws requiring certain employers to provide paid sick leave to their employees. Making it even more complicated, some of them contradict each other and leave employers with more questions than answers.

Part of the difficulty in staying current is the sheer number of geographic locations enacting such laws. Currently, five states have passed such laws: California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Vermont, along with 27 local governments. And the trend is likely to continue, with more jurisdictions considering similar policies. Compliance will be a constant challenge, particularly for employers who have employees spread out in multiple locations. 

The issue is further complicated by the fact that the laws vary on scope and applicability. For instance, some laws provide that sick time may be used for purposes relating to domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Others permit sick time to be used to bond with a new child, or to deal with a family member's death.

To help navigate these waters, the chart below summarizes the key provisions for the five states currently with laws on the books. We have also identified the various local governments that also have adopted paid sick leave requirements. As the local rules vary widely and are often more generous than the state laws, we recommend consulting counsel if you have employees in any of these locations.

State

When do Covered Employees Start to Earn Paid Sick Leave?

How Much Paid Sick Leave Can Accrue Each Year?

Can Unused Accrued Paid Sick Leave Carryover to the Following Year?

California

At the start of employment however, paid sick time cannot be used until the 90th day of employment.

Employees can earn up to 48 hours or 6 days of paid sick time, but an employer is not required to allow use of more than 24 hours or 3 days of paid sick time a year.

Yes, the state law includes a carryover provision with certain restrictions.

Connecticut

At the start of employment, however, paid sick time cannot be used until the 680th hour of employment assuming certain restrictions are met.

Up to 40 hours per year.

Yes, the state law includes a carryover provision with certain restrictions.

Massachusetts

At the date of hire, but sick time cannot be used until the 90th calendar day following the start of employment.

Up to 40 hours per year, subject to restrictions based on employer size.

Yes, the state law includes a carryover provision with certain restrictions.

Oregon

For an employee employed on the law's effective date of January 1, 2016, earned sick time may be used as it is earned. For employees who begin employment after January 1, 2016, earned sick time cannot be used until the 91st calendar day of employment with the employer.

If 10 or more employees: up to 40 hours per year. If fewer than 10 employees, up to 40 hours of unpaid sick leave hours per year.

The law also contains special provisions for employers located in Portland, Oregon, and for certain home care workers.

Yes, the state law includes a carryover provision with certain restrictions. 

Vermont

At the start of employment or when their employer becomes covered by the law, whichever is later, but employees can be required to wait up to 1 year before using their accrued paid sick time.

From January 1, 2017 until
December 31, 2018: up to 24 hours per year. After December 31, 2018: Up to 40 hours a year. The law provides that new businesses will not be subject to the paid sick time law for a period of one year after hiring their first employee.

Yes, the state law includes a carryover provision with certain restrictions.

In addition, the following cities/counties/commonwealths have passed their own versions of such laws: 

  • California: Emeryville, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, Santa Monica
  • Illinois: Chicago
  • Louisiana: New Orleans
  • Maryland: Montgomery County
  • Minnesota: Minneapolis
  • New Jersey: Bloomfield, East Orange, Elizabeth, Irvington, Jersey City, Montclair, Newark, New Brunswick, Passaic, Paterson, Plainfield, Trenton,
  • New York: New York City
  • Oregon: Eugene, Portland
  • Pennsylvania: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh
  • Puerto Rico
  • Washington: SeaTac, Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma
  • Washington, D.C.

If an employer does business or has employees in any of these places, it should consider the following key issues:

  1. Which employees are eligible for paid sick leave?

Some laws require employees to work a certain period of time before becoming eligible for paid sick leave, and some exclude certain categories of employees.

  1. Which employers are required to provide paid sick leave?

Whether a specific law is applicable may depend on the type of business, a threshold number of employees in a geographic region, or the number of hours an employee works in a particular region. 

  1. When and how does paid sick time accrue?

In some places, sick days are accrued based on hours worked, while in others, they are allotted up front.

  1. Does accrued but unused paid sick time carryover to the following year?

It depends on the location, as well as whether the days are provided up front or accrue over time.

  1. Can an employee use accrued paid sick leave to care for a family member?

Generally, yes, but who qualifies as a covered family member varies widely by jurisdiction.

  1. Can an employer require documentation regarding the reason for a paid sick leave?

It depends, but most laws prohibit retaliating against employees who use sick leave, so employers need to be careful about policies that could be seen as retaliatory (i.e., no holiday pay if using sick leave day before or after; no intrusive inquiry into use.)

  1. Must an employer pay for unused accrued sick leave once an employee separates from the company?

It depends. If an employer bundles sick leave into PTO and state or local law requires payout of PTO or treats it as vacation (and subject to those carryover and payout rules), an employer may be required to pay for unused sick leave that has been bundled once an employee separates from the company. 

  1. Can an employer cap or limit the amount of paid sick leave?

Generally speaking, there can also be caps and limits imposed on both use and carryover.

These are some, but not all, of the issues that should be considered when interpreting an employer's obligations under the new sick leave laws. In the evolving nature of the laws, employers are advised to review their policies and procedures to ensure compliance with these rapidly changing requirements.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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