Trends: The Sick Leave “Virus”

Laws mandating paid sick leave for employees are spreading like a virus, both inside and outside of California, mutating into different strains as they go. “Ground Zero” was San Francisco’s 2007 municipal ordinance requiring employers within the city to offer paid sick leave benefits. Recently, other California cities such as Oakland and Emeryville, have followed suit, joining a dozen or so other major cities or counties each with their own local sick leave ordinances.

California’s statewide paid sick leave law, passed last year as AB 1522 and in effect since July 1, has also recently been followed by a similar state law in Oregon, adding to Connecticut’s and Massachusetts’ state sick pay mandates. Similar in content to one another, each of the laws in the fifteen or so states, cities or counties now requiring paid sick leave is different enough from its cousins to require a careful approach to compliance and unusual vigilance to stay aware of changes to laws across jurisdictions.

For instance, less than two weeks into its experience with mandatory paid sick leave, the State of California has already amended its just-birthed law (which does not pre-empt more generous local sick leave laws). On July 13, California’s Governor signed AB 304, passed as “urgency” legislation and in effect immediately, to clarify some provisions and add additional compliance options to California’s original paid sick leave law.

Among other changes effective July 13 are alternative sick leave accrual options beyond the “one hour for every 30 hours worked” provision in the original bill; the belated “grandfathering” of some employers’ pre-existing sick leave accrual provisions; and two separate options for computing the rate of sick pay for non-exempt employees. Watch for upcoming regulatory guidance on the changes wrought by AB 304 from the California Division of Labor Standards Enforcement at this link:

The fragmented “bottom up” approach to regulation of the American workplace seen in the development of law on paid sick leave is a growing feature of the 21st century and reflects the increasing fragmentation of American society and the political polarization and gridlock within the federal government. As paid sick leave laws continue to spread in the absence of unlikely federal legislation pre-empting state sick leave laws (or state legislation pre-empting local sick leave laws), employers with employees in more than one jurisdiction—sometimes even within the same state—can expect to have to deal with “regulation proliferation” requiring their policies and supporting automated systems to address paid sick leave mandates with distinct requirements from one location to another. We can already see minimum wage legislation following the same pattern as it too spreads across the nation.

Today’s societal restiveness on wages, benefits and working conditions in the absence of agreement at a national level about how to address the issues means a future of increasingly local legislative solutions—and a more complex compliance environment for employers. Larger companies looking for the efficiency of uniform employment law standards applicable throughout the U.S. are likely to find cold comfort in the fragmented employment legislation scene now developing and those approaching corporate employment law compliance efforts with a national or even regional “one-size-fits-all” model are likely to find themselves facing increased legal risks in coming years.

Posted in Disability and Leaves, General.