What You Need to Know About Austin's Sick Leave Ordinance

20 February 2018 Publication

On Friday, February 16, the Austin City Council became the first city in Texas to require employers provide paid sick leave to their employees – whether full or part time.  Any employer that has an employee in Austin – or even an employee elsewhere who spends some time working in Austin – should pay attention.

Here’s what you need to know right now:

  • Employees Covered: Any employee who works in Austin for at least 80 hours per calendar year will be required to receive paid sick leave and their employer must meet the ordinance’s other requirements for Austin employees.
  • Effective Date: For those who employ more than 5 employees, the ordinance comes into effect on October 1, 2018.  Smaller employees have until October 1, 2020.
  • Leave Requirement: Employers must provide one hour of leave for every 30 hours worked to a maximum of 64 hours per year.  Those who have less than 16 employees have a lower cap of 48 hours paid sick leave.
  • Use of Leave: Employees are entitled to use leave as soon as it accrues; however, employers may be able to have a 60-day probationary period for employees who have a term of employment that is at least one year.  Employees are entitled to use paid leave not only for their own health conditions, doctors’ appointments, and circumstances relating to sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking, but also to provide assistance to family members for the same conditions, appointments or circumstances.
  • Existing Leave Policies: Existing sick leave or paid time off policies will satisfy the ordinance as long as they are at least as generous as the ordinance.  However, employers should seek counsel to ensure their existing policies fully comply.
  • Administrative and Notice Requirements: The ordinance requires employers to post an approved notice of the sick-leave entitlement, and include a notice of employees’ rights and remedies in employer handbooks.
  • Retaliation Prohibited: The ordinance prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the ordinance or participating in any complaint under the ordinance.

While there are many other details contained in the ordinance, these points demonstrate that all employers need to seek counsel and ensure their policies and procedures are in compliance by the effective date.

The new law clearly has implications for private employers that do not currently provide sick leave or paid time off to their employees. On October 1, 2018, those employers will need to begin providing benefits and complying with the record-keeping and other aspects of the ordinance.

What is easy to overlook is that businesses that already offer sick leave will also be impacted. For example, many businesses offer leave for full-time employees, but do not do so for some part time or seasonal employees. As noted above, the ordinance requires an employer to provide sick leave for any employee who works for more than 80 hours in a year within the City of Austin. That means that a college student hired over the summer would need to accrue leave. Also, a year-round part-time employee working less than an average of 2 hours per week would begin to earn sick leave. Additionally, an employee who mainly works in another city, but works in Austin for the requisite 80 hours in a year, would be covered by the ordinance.  As a result, all employers should review their leave policies to make sure they are ready to comply with the new law.

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