Sick-Leave Equality

by RaeAnne Marsh

Sick-leave laws vary from state to state, which presents fairness issues for multi-state businesses that most small and medium-sized businesses do not face, explains Bryan Hum, an attorney with the ERISA Industry Committee (ERIC), which represents the largest employers in the country across all industries (10,000 or more employees): how to make the best policies for their employees that are equal company-wide while being compliant with potentially incompatible state laws.

In a brief on the issue, Hum addressed difficulties arising out of the recently passed Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act. “The Act holds that ‘an employer may provide all earned paid sick time that an employee is expected to accrue in a year at the beginning of the year.’ Thus, Arizona voters decided they wanted a paid sick leave law that provided for both frontloading and the carryover of unused leave, but provided no clear guidance on how they should coincide with one another. Large employers have already been doing this for years, they have the answer: When employers frontload leave, they do so without allowing for carryover, thereby creating a ‘use-it-or-lose-it’ policy. This type of policy allows employees to use leave on an as-needed basis, rather than waiting for it to accrue over the course of the year. This system creates a great benefit to the employee, without imposing any unnecessary burdens on the employer.” While a proposed amendment to the Act would give the option of letting employees carry over a maximum of 40 hours of unused earned paid sick time or employers pay the employee for that sick time, ERIC suggests a third alternative: mandating carryover only in instances where the employer does not frontload sick leave.

This is one of several issues that, Hum contends, still need to be addressed for the Act to more fully realize the fairness outcome it intends. Observing that, regarding small versus large, multi-state businesses, the one-size-fits-all model doesn’t work in crafting law, he says, “It’s important for lawmakers to understand employers’ need for uniformity in their policies.”

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