When Conflicting Obligations Make You Sick: Complying With Sick Leave Laws

26 January 2015 Labor & Employment Law Perspectives Blog

While President Obama’s recent push for a federal paid sick leave mandate for private-sector employees is unlikely to gain traction in the new Congress, employers still begin 2015 facing an intricate web of state and local sick leave laws that are apt to cause employers headaches and confusion.

As we have noted previously, sick leave laws have become more prevalent in recent months at both the state and local level. While one state, Wisconsin, has actually passed a state law prohibiting local entities such as counties and cities from enacting their own paid sick leave laws, this area has been otherwise largely dominated by local government involvement; and an employer with multiple locations within one state may have the burden of complying with varying sick leave requirements. For example, eight different municipalities in the state of New Jersey alone have passed their own sick leave laws. If the employer has operations in both Trenton and Jersey City, the employer must comply with the provisions of both ordinances, even though the minimum number of employees for applicability, minimum required hours of paid leave, notice requirements, recordkeeping requirements, when an employer may require documentation, and penalties for noncompliance may all differ. Trenton, for example, requires that employers with 10 or more full-time employees provide up to 40 hours of paid sick leave per calendar year, and that employers with fewer than 10 employees provide up to 24 hours of such paid leave. Jersey City, on the other hand, requires that employers with fewer than 10 private sector employees must provide up to five days of sick leave per year, but that time may be unpaid.

Most ordinances permit employers with sick leave policies that are at least as generous as those provided for by applicable law to maintain their own policies; but the localized nature of these regulations often makes it difficult to tell without a detailed and careful analysis whether the employer’s policy meets or exceeds the requirements imposed by state, county, or municipal legislation.

In addition to providing paid sick leave in accordance with varying ordinances, employers may be surprised to find that some municipalities impose additional recordkeeping responsibilities on employers related to sick leave that are not in line with recordkeeping requirements found in other statutory schemes. For example, Seattle requires that employers track and provide employees with the amount of their available paid sick leave every time that wages are paid, without waiting for a request by the employee. In addition to the existing laws on the books, numerous state legislatures and local governments have introduced proposed laws and regulations that may be acted upon during the coming months in this rapidly developing area.

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