United States: Georgia Enacts Kin Care Law

Beginning July 1, 2017, large employers in Georgia that offer paid sick leave will be required to permit their employees to use some of it to care for their immediate family members. The Georgia legislature previously had been reticent to join the growing trend of states and cities imposing paid sick leave requirements on private sector employers.1 Nevertheless, on May 8, 2017, Governor Nathan Deal signed into law a measure, commonly referred to as a "kin care law," that will require employers that offer paid sick leave to employees—or choose to do so in the future—to allow employees to use their paid sick leave to care for their children, spouse, parents, grandparents, grandchildren or any person identified as a dependent on the employee's most recent tax return.

How it Works

The new law, which goes into effect on July 1, 2017, applies to employers with over 25 employees and to those employees who work at least 30 hours per week. When the law takes effect, qualifying employees will be entitled to use up to 5 days of paid sick leave2 per year to care for the needs of their immediate family members. Employees still must use their sick leave in accordance with the terms of their employer's policy and are only entitled to use accrued sick leave.

The Georgia legislature reportedly limited the definition of "employer" to employers with 25 or more employees in an effort to limit the impact on small businesses where increased use of paid sick leave is perceived to present more of a burden. The legislation also includes a carve-out for any "employee-owned" businesses, in which an employer offers an employee stock ownership plan; such companies are exempt from the requirements of the law.

Importantly, Georgia's new law is limited to only those employers that already provide paid sick leave to their employees or that begin to do so in the future. Nothing in the new law requires an employer to offer sick leave if it otherwise does not do so, although bills that would require employers to offer paid sick leave have been introduced.3 Similarly, nothing in the law requires employers to offer a set amount of paid sick leave, nor does it require employers to permit employees to use more than five days of paid sick leave per calendar year for the care of an immediate family member. Notably, the new law does not contain any explicit enforcement provisions and explicitly states that it does not create a new cause of action against employers.

Recommendations

Employers that offer paid sick leave should consider preparing for the new law to go into effect this summer by reviewing their leave policies to ensure that they permit eligible employees to use up to five days of paid sick leave to care for immediate family members. Employers may want to consider training appropriate human resources representatives and managers on the new law, particularly because of its expansive definition of "immediate family member." Employers may also want to consider the implications under the federal Family Medical Leave Act, and the obligations that may arise when an employee requires or requests paid leave to care for a family member under the new law.

Employers may want to consult with experienced employment counsel when addressing any of these issues.

Footnotes

1. In 2006, Georgia was among the first states to pass a preemptive sick leave law that precluded local city and county governments from enacting local mandatory sick leave laws.

2. The new law does not require employers to provide short-term and long-term disability benefits as part of paid sick leave.

3. In 2016, the Georgia Senate passed bill SB 824, which would have provided for mandatory paid sick leave. In 2017, the Georgia House also proposed a bill requiring employers to provide paid sick leave. See HB 267.

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