Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed a new law on May 8, 2017, requiring employers to allow employees to use some of their earned and available sick leave to care for the employee's immediate family member. The new law, called the Family Care Act, will take effect on July 1, 2017. It only applies to employers with 25 or more employees (although employers offering an employee stock ownership plan to their employees are excluded from coverage). It also applies to the State of Georgia and its political subdivisions and instrumentalities.
The new law does not create an obligation for employers to provide sick leave to employees. Instead, it requires employers that already give their workers paid sick leave to permit a portion of the leave – up to five days per calendar year – to be used for caring for the eligible employees' immediate family members. "Immediate family member" is defined as "an employee's child, spouse, grandchild, grandparent, or parent or any dependents as shown in the employee's most recent tax return." Only employees who work at least 30 hours per week are eligible to use their sick leave in this manner. Eligible employees still have to comply with their employer's leave policies and may not take sick leave for the care of an immediate family member before that leave is earned.
Importantly, the Family Care Act does not contain any enforcement or penalty provisions and it expressly states that it does not create a new cause of action against an employer. So, it is not clear how significant the impact of this new law will be. However, covered employers who currently offer sick leave to their workers should consider updating their sick leave policy to reflect the new law. Specifically, if a covered employer's policies only allow time off for the employee's own health-related issues or only for some family members (but not all of those listed in the new statute), such policies should be reviewed and updated to comply with the new law. If an employer's policy currently allows paid time off for any purpose, however, the policy does not need to be updated because employees are already able to use their earned sick leave as required by the new law. Covered employers should also ensure that those tasked with administering leave and absences are aware of the new requirements under the Family Care Act.
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